Friday, February 22, 2008

Greens pressure Government to implement Garnaut recommendations

Greens’ climate change spokesperson, Senator Christine Milne has said Australia cannot wait for the final Garnaut report in September to take action to reduce carbon emissions. Milne says the interim report released yesterday calls for urgent action and the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should respond with a climate-focused budget in May. Her call was “The razor-gang should be targeting the $9 billion in subsidies the fossil fuel industries receive annually, instead of public service jobs," she said. "Every month the Rudd government delays action to reduce Australia's emissions will cost the environment and taxpayers more in the long run.”

In his interim report (pdf), the Government’s climate change adviser Ross Garnaut warns that climate change is occurring faster than previously thought due to strong economic growth in China and India. He says the Federal Government should consider going beyond its stated 60 per cent reduction target by 2050 in a global agreement that includes developing nations. The Report also favours bilateral and regional agreements to accelerate domestic and international action. “Steady, long-term policies are what Australia needs,” he said, “in order to provide the market certainty for making appropriately large reductions in emissions at the lowest possible costs to Australians’ standards of living”.

The report’s executive summary stresses it represents “genuinely interim judgements”. However it also states that the world is moving towards high risks of dangerous climate change quicker than most people have expected. This makes mitigation more urgent and costly. The report says Australia should follow the lead of the EU and make firm commitments this year to 2020 and 2050 emissions targets with a similar adjustment cost to that accepted by other developed countries. It says an emissions trading scheme (ETS) needs to be the centre-piece of a domestic mitigation strategy.

So far, the government is refusing to budge from its stated 60 per cent target from 2000 levels. Climate change minister Senator Penny Wong told a Senate committee said Labor set that target on basis of known information last year. She said these included European studies, The Stern Review, and those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Wong refused to answer Greens’ questions about how the government's target related to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or predicted average temperature rises. Wong said the Garnaut Review and Treasury modelling were the two primary inputs to formulating climate change policy; however, it was up to the government to decide on targets. "You don't contract out decisions as significant to the Australian environment, community and economy to a single individual," she said.

In his final article for Crikey before he joins The Australian next week, Christian Kerr says Garnaut’s report underlies an inconvenient truth for the government. It was handy to delay the publication of the report until after the election but now the government must do something about it. Kerr says there will be higher petrol prices and higher energy costs involved in tackling greenhouse and it will be up to the government to sell the benefits of the strategy to the electorate. “Governments don’t just have to make hard decisions,” he said. “If they want to survive, they have to carry voters with them.”

Meanwhile the Greens have produced their own report “Reenergising Australia” to address climate change issues. In her preface to the report Senator Milne says “we have only ten to fifteen years to make the deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.” She says only political will is stopping Australia from making the necessary transition to a low carbon economy.

But they recognise it won’t be easy. Australia has the highest per capita level of greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world due a reliance on coal power, a large agricultural sector, low levels of public transport use, energy-intensive metal manufacturing and a high population growth. The Greens demand greenhouse gas reduction to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. They also demand institutions need to be reformed to support a low carbon economy and say governments should create economic incentives to move from high to low carbon energy sources. As Milne concludes, the aim of their report is nothing less than fundamental change to the consciousness on which Australia’s unsustainable economy is based. Garnaut has simply reiterated this need.

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