The Australian government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is more about profit than planet.

When the Treasury modeling on the CPRS was released on October 30, Treasurer Wayne Swan said it showed Australia could tackle climate change at the same time as boosting growth and jobs, according to The Age on October 31.

Many people will think they are moving seriously to tackle climate change. Are they?

The modeling only covers scenarios of 5-25 per cent emissions reductions by 2020 (using the year 2000 as a baseline, rather than the more commonly used 1990 figures from the Kyoto treaty) corresponding (if you accept the modeling), to a stabilisation goal of between 550ppm and 450ppm, well short of what scientists say is needed for the world to avoid abrupt climate change.

Not only do the targets not take into account the need for Australia to pull its weight as one of the developed countries with the highest per capita emissions levels, but will mean, as The Age headline summed it up: “Third World to do our dirty work”. The article continued:

“While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050, the modeling shows Australia could technically fulfil the pledge with a cut in its emissions of just 24 per cent, relative to 1990 levels. The other 36 per cent would be made up by the purchase of emission permits from developing countries.”

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Carbon capture

The modeling also makes assumptions that Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) will be cheap and that it will work, and work in time.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull who has previously called CCS the low emissions technology “foremost in importance”, has attacked the CCS cost presented in the modeling as “speculative”, because it isn’t actually in operation anywhere.

He is right on CCS but Turnbull has said this only because he wants to stop any action on climate that imposes a cost on business. He has therefore jettisoned the cheer squad for CCS to try and undermine the treasury economic case for introducing carbon trading. He has also called for carbon trading to be delayed because of the financial crisis.

Rudd, on the other hand, understands that the government must be seen to be doing something. Much of the confusion in this debate comes from the suggestion that carbon trading will be serious action on climate change—it’s more about creating a market in carbon credits.

The Wall Street bailout shows what could be done if there was US$700 billion to bail out the planet rather than the rich. In a rational world we could discuss how to best split that money to use towards both eliminating world hunger, and changing production priorities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Australia the $4 billion recently given to the banking system, could have built four solar power stations powering 400,000 homes.

Just as the financial crisis has demanded direct government intervention (including wholesale nationalisations), the only solutions that will actually reduce emissions require similar committed government action, regulation and planning.

Governments should be stopping all new fossil fuel development and throwing money into renewable energy, instead Rudd is doing almost the opposite.

Nobody need be unemployed because of the current economic crisis; major government investment could reduce emissions and simultaneously provide full employment.

Debate on solutions to climate change can’t be limited to tinkering with different versions of carbon trading. The fate of the planet and all of us, who depend on it, is too important to be left to market forces.

By Chris Breen

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