Is Australia’s Emission Trading System Going to Work Effectively Or is it Just Greenwash?

In Australia the government are introducing an emission trading or cap and trade scheme.  There are major concerns about the level of reduction the government wants to sign up to and also whether it will actually work.

As Australians we do need to take action about carbon reduction.  We are both the most vulnerable continent for feeling the effects of global warming and also we are the worst greenhouse emitters per head than any other country on the planet.  We emit even more than the USA and Canada who are our nearest competitors for this wooden spoon.  This is at least in part due to our huge coal industry.

The head of the Australia Institute’s Think Tank says that the Federal Government’s emissions trading scheme will have too many permits and will not reduce carbon emissions.

The Australia Institute’s executive director, Dr Richard Denniss, said the scheme’s flaws related to the 5 to 15 per cent emissions reduction targets, which he described as ”ridiculously low”, and he said there would be too many permits.  Dr Dennis said that “We won’t achieve the policy goal, which is to reduce emissions.”

Dr Denniss told the Senate that ”[If] we pass this legislation, we’ve got it for the next 10 years. And anyone that’s got a good idea a year later, it’s not going to help. This legislation is designed to not be tinkered with.”

Professor Clive Hamilton, from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, said the proposed scheme had damaged Australia’s reputation. A reduction target of at least 25 per cent needed to be set if the Government wanted credibility on the world stage. Australia would be better off taking no policy than the proposed model to the December climate change talks in Copenhagen, he said.

”It not only lowers the ambition of the world community but also excludes Australia from being a forceful player in negotiating … a strong international agreement.”

It is hard to see how exempting large emitters ignoring the 1.9 million small to medium businesses is going to help us reduce our carbon footprint. These same small businesses are currently suffering from financial stress, the business owners and managers are overworked and simply don’t feel able to handle anything new. Many don’t really understand what global warming is about or why it matters. 

We urgently need unambiguous communication so that small to medium businesses accept the reality of the need for change and also how easy it can be to make significant reductions with minimal time input and save money at the same time.

We also need to help low income households reduce their carbon footprint with more efficient heating and cooling and effective public transport.  We should NOT be giving them even more cash hand outs as “compensation” as currently promised by the government.  All households need to come on board and stop wasting power.

We need a clear message that going green applies to all of us, is easy and saves money – just “go for a grumpy walk and just turn it off”.  If every small business and householder just went around each office and home and did this it would be relatively easy for every one to reduce their carbon emissions and their power bill by 15-20%. At present we are told it will be difficult and it only applies to big business.  Such a wrong message – we all need to pull together.

A Brief given to the Victorian Government advises that the state should only bother with green measures if they are more cost-effective than alternatives.  They have been told to rethink programs such as subsidies for solar farms and hybrid car fleets because these will not contribute to any additional emission cuts under the federal scheme.

The Greens have concerns about the cost of emission permits being reduced by the actions of households, councils and governments, hence reducing industry’s incentive to cut emissions. This is more than simply an economic debate. Individuals and households should also be reducing their emissions. Achieving sustainability is a grassroots exercise that involves the entire community, and Australians are becoming aware of the need to remake the economy and society. The momentum must not be lost.

An additional concern is whether the legislation and also the international agreements reached in Copenhagen will be flexible enough to take account of emerging technology.  At present this does not appear to be the case.  Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change, rejected spending on biochar, a form of carbon capture in soil research because that is not listed in the protocol.  Thankfully some soil carbon storage research will now be funded in the agriculture budget but that begs the requirement for the legislation to be flexible and allow for new and future technology.

If the ETS cannot deliver real carbon reductions it is really a form of “greenwash” saying we signed Kyoto and have done something before the next election. The big problem is that the government looks ahead 3 years to the next election, Big Biz CEO’s also look to the short term of their contracts and bonuses.  Who looks ahead for our children?