Thursday, December 03, 2009

Regional survey exposes three myths in Australian climate change debate

A new report from international law firm Allens Arthur Robinson surveying climate change strategies across the Asia Pacific region has found the debate in Australia has been too narrowly focused on an ETS. The report entitled One Hat Doesn’t Fit All was an overview of climate change measures in 14 countries: Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Report co-author Grant Anderson said that while the debate in Australia and NZ has focused on a domestic ETS, the survey has revealed the wider region is looking at a variety of other measures to promote the green economy, all of which were necessary to combat climate change. (photo of Copenhagen bike commuter by David Dennis)

The report identified "three myths" about emissions reduction. The first myth identified by the report is that Australia can afford to wait until after Copenhagen to see what the rest of the world is doing on climate change. While it is possible (though unlikely) that negotiations may see the agreement of more ambitious proposals, many countries in the region including China, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand have all announced unilateral measures that will position them to prosper in the green economy. Australia should be looking at targets and national feed-in tariffs to support renewables as well as providing tax incentives, fuel price reforms and energy efficiency programs.

The second myth is that China is doing nothing to constrain its greenhouse gas emissions. While it is true that its emissions are growing rapidly as the economy expands, China is investing heavily in renewable energy and becoming more energy efficient while increasing taxes on higher polluting products and industries. In advance of Copenhagen, the Chinese government has announced it would curb emissions per unit of gross domestic product by between 40 and 45 percent from the 2005 levels by 2020.The Chinese are also increasing consumption taxes on transport fuel, and have introduced stringent fuel efficiency regulations for vehicles.

The third myth is that there is a “silver bullet” that will solve climate change. The countries in the Asia Pacific region are taking a wide variety of approaches suitable to local economic and geographic conditions. While Japan and Singapore concentrate on energy efficiency, poorer countries such as Indonesia and PNG are working to avoid deforestation. The Philippines is the world’s second-largest producer of geothermal energy, and is now expanding into wind, solar, mini-hydro and biofuels initiatives with the aim of being 60 per cent energy self-sufficient in 2010. The report says that a wide variety of emission reduction measures will be needed to solve the problem of climate change.

Australia is particularly exposed with its reliance on vast, cheap reserves of coal, an energy-intensive export industry, and a sparsely located population wedded to private car usage. As a lucid Malcolm Turnbull noted this week, there is no costless way of moving to a lower emission economy. The country has been absorbed by the fight over the Government’s version of the ETS, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme which remains mired in the Senate after this week’s defeat despite it being riddled with compromises that severely limit its effectiveness. Meanwhile there is a vast untapped resource of renewable energy (currently supplying less than five percent of the base load) and the Government steadfastly refuses to examine the nuclear option.

Because of these factors, Australia faces relatively high economic costs of abatement compared with other developed countries. A key element in Australia’s negotiating position at Copenhagen is the idea of “comparable effort”. The concept requires that Australia would be prepared to adopt a national allocation budget between 2013 and 2020 that is comparable in its economic impact to that shouldered by other advanced countries. Economic modeling by Access Economics has shown a comprehensive climate change global agreement is more cost and environmentally effective from Australia’s point of view that a partial agreement.

But the AAR report warns that it could take many years to nut out a comprehensive post-Copenhagen agreement. The 180-page treaty draft is currently riddled with 2,000 square brackets each of which indicates a point of difference between participants. It notes that although it took two years to agree the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, much of the nitty-gritty was not agreed until the 2001 Marrakesh Accords and even then it did not come into force until Russia signed up in 2005. In the meantime, Australia should be widening its net far beyond its flawed ETS.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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SolarGen said...

Great article Derek it was an interesting and informative read. I don't think Australia should be waiting to see what any other country does before initiating incentives for renewable energy!