Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), the government’s key mechanism for addressing climate change, is under fire on all sides. It’s not hard to see why.The scheme is premised on an emissions reduction target of just 5 per cent by 2020. This may rise to 15 per cent if a global agreement can be reached later in the year at the Copenhagen climate talks. Global science on climate change demands cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent—and even this research is acknowledged as drastically out of date.
This is a key moment for the climate movement. The government has made it clear that the CPRS its central scheme for reducing emissions. That’s why opposition to the CPRS needs to be front and centre of climate campaigning and the World Environment Day rallies on June 6.
In its present form the legislation is facing defeat in the Senate. The Rudd government needs the support of either the Liberals or both the Greens and the independents to pass it.
Climate change minister Penny Wong’s strategy is to scare those demanding more serious emissions cuts by saying the alternative to accepting the CPRS is to “do nothing—and lock in more emissions growth”.
Some climate activists have taken fright at this, questioning whether it is still right to oppose the CPRS outright if that risks the whole thing being voted down.
The fact that the Liberals are opposing the scheme has also confused some activists.
But the Liberals oppose the scheme from the right—they represent the big business interests that want to delay action. They are no allies in the fight to stop climate change.
The Greens have given expression to the deep outrage of the climate movement, calling the scheme “worse than nothing” and calling for a target of 40 per cent emissions cuts.
But so far their focus is on negotiating changes in the Senate, to “green up” the bill, as Christine Milne puts it. It’s not clear what minimum changes The Greens senators would accept.
The approach gives the government an opening to bully The Greens into voting for an ineffective scheme.
The climate movement needs to do everything it can to try and keep The Greens opposition strong and ensure they vote against the bill.
Defeat the bill
A dramatic defeat for the legislation would be the best outcome. This would force the government back to the drawing board.
The CPRS model is so bad it might actually allow Australia’s emissions to increase, because business can buy an unlimited number of dodgy “carbon offsets” from overseas and buy their way out of action for the foreseeable future. It would lock in a do-nothing approach for the next five years, when we face the need to reduce carbon emissions to zero as fast as possible.
The political terrain is shifting in favour of those who want serious action. A huge majority want the government to act, but don’t yet understand how pathetic the policies are or the scale of the changes needed.
The first step in mobilising those people is increasing the clarity within the climate movement about why the CPRS needs to be stopped, and what the alternative is.
The idea of a carbon tax has gained greater support as a simpler alternative to the Rudd government’s version of emissions trading, which makes so many concessions to the fossil fuel industry.
But the two mechanisms are remarkably similar—they assume that imposing a price on carbon emissions is an efficient way of encouraging companies to pollute less. In practice much of the cost will be passed on to consumers.
David Spratt, author of Climate Code Red, points out “[Even] large prices rises produce relatively small decreases [in fossil fuel use], as we witness with petrol, so they are far from being the only, or prinicipal, means that should be employed in constructing a post-carbon economy.”
The fastest and most efficient way to radically reduce emissions is for government to put up the money for massive investment in renewable energy infrastructure and public transport.
The Rudd government has demonstrated through its $42 billion spending package that there is no reason governments cannot significantly expand spending. But with so much pressure from big business to delay meaningful action, forcing the government to do this will require building a powerful grassroots movement.
By James Supple