The Sydney Morning Herald headline said it all about Professor Ross Garnaut’s latest round of reports: “Sigh of relief from business”.

When Garnaut released his interim report earlier this year, many in the environment movement felt that his understanding of the problem of global warming suggested he would advocate a strict target for emissions cuts. Those hopes have been dashed.

Garnaut’s latest recommendations say, “The only option for Australia at this time is to pursue global agreement to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at 550ppm [parts per million]”. This will essentially mean a cut of between five and ten percent in emissions by 2020. Garnaut favours ten per cent, but says in the absence of an international agreement at Copenhagen later this year, the Rudd government should aim for five per cent.

Even conservative estimates suggest that we need a reduction to 450ppm by 2020 (meaning a 25 per cent cuts). Advocates of more serious change, like the Greens, call for at least a 40 per cent cut by 2020.

Many commentators have lamented the fact that Garnaut is seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they argue, he recognises the wealth of scientific evidence that substantial cuts to emissions need to be made both by 2020 and the later target of 2050. On the other hand, Garnaut is a “realist” who recognises political barriers to cutting emissions at both national and international levels.

But Garnaut’s response is not just a result of lobbying by the Business Council of Australia and its allies.

The commitment to free market ideology exists in the very logic of Garnaut’s interim report. The idea that a market mechanism like the Emissions Trading Scheme could provide the kind of leverage needed to see substantial reductions in emissions over the next decade was a giveaway.

Garnaut has not simply made concessions to big business—he was always looking out for their interests.

Now, more than ever, it is clear that we need to look for ways to open a true debate over how to deal with global warming. There are clear alternatives to Rudd and Garnaut’s do-nothing strategy. We can call for public investment in renewable energy and transport infrastructure along with clear models for transitioning emissions-intensive workforces to green industries.

With the Rudd government likely to opt for the softest version of Garnaut’s models, meaning a five percent target for 2020, the national week of action starting September 21 takes on a new importance.

The rallies in each city must tackle Garnaut’s report and Rudd’s Green Paper and call for real government intervention now. We need to look towards building the Walk Against Warming rallies around similar demands in November.

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