Climate change has been very much the heart of Australian politics at the federal level for the past few months. It is the source of intense debate between the Labour government and the Coalition opposition. Within the Liberal Party itself, the proposed cap and trade arrangement has divided the party. Tony Abbott successfully replaced Malcolm Turnbull as the new Liberal leader exactly because of this issue.

The Turnbull fraction is prepared to work with the Rudd government on the cap and trade proposal. Others, perhaps, now called the Abbott fraction, do not. With Turnbull out and Abbott in, the cap and trade proposal has been scuttled in the Australian Senate.

On the front page of The Australian yesterday, Abbott made known a curious position. He accepts the challenges climate change poses and he accepts emission targets that Turnbull agreed to. What he rejects is any introduction of tax, as direct as carbon tax or as indirect as cap and trade scheme. In his own words, “[t]he Coalition will not be going to the election with a new tax, whether it’s a stealth tax, the emissions trading scheme, whether it’s an upfront and straightforward tax like a carbon tax.” In its place, he proposes implementing “land management and energy efficiency measures.”[1]

This is a curious position because I am grappling to see how his plan could achieve the reduction target he agreed to. Land management and efficiency measures sound like a boilerplate idea that lacks substance.

Despite actual inferiority of cap and trade to carbon tax, if done properly, it could be as effective as the simpler carbon tax. Land management and efficiency measures on the other hand will demand maneuver more complex than cap and trade.

In fact, complexity of a scheme makes it more susceptible to higher probability of failure. That happened in Europe with its version of cap and trade. One major feature that is attributable to European failure is the granting of free permits. Free permits arrangement is present in Rudd government’s proposed cap and trade scheme.[2]

Furthermore, Abbott’s measures appear similar to the Bush administration’s proposal of encouraging development of technology to address the need to manage carbon emissions in form of the probably now forgotten Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate.[3]

Technology is indeed the golden bullet. It can reduce emissions given a unit of activity. Of course, the technology is out there: carbon sequestering, micro mirror in space, the spraying of aerosol in the atmosphere, nuclear power, wind, solar, etc. But which one?

That is the weakness of Bush’s proposal.

Any proposal has to be concrete with implementable actions, Abbott’s measures are mere boilerplate. It lacks substance. It lacks actual implementable measures.

Boilerplate solution is sorely inadequate.

Perhaps it is unfair to criticize Abbott’s measures since it is still early days. After all, he is less than a week old as the new leader of the Liberal Party and as the Opposition Leader. It may be only fair to give him the opportunity to think and present his idea more thoroughly.

Unfortunately, time is running out. This is not a tired old green rhetoric. Election may loom and the Liberals risk further marginalization if there are no concrete alternative solutions, especially since the new Liberal leader accepts the need for action.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — TONY Abbott plans to fight a climate change election using land management and energy efficiency measures to slash greenhouse emissions instead of an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax.

[…]

Pressed for an alternative, he said the Opposition remained committed to an unconditional target of reducing emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 but would not embrace an ETS or a carbon tax. He said there were “lots of things” that could be done to reduce emissions through other means, many not involving significant costs.

These included more energy-efficient buildings, better land management and biosequestration. NSW Nationals Senator John Williams claimed Australia could offset 100 per cent of its carbon emissions for 100 years by lifting soil carbon by 3 per cent.

Mr Abbott also said he would welcome a debate on the use of nuclear energy, although he did not think it was a short-term option.

“The Coalition will not be going to the election with a new tax, whether it’s a stealth tax, the emissions trading scheme, whether it’s an upfront and straightforward tax like a carbon tax,” he said “We’ll have a strong and effective climate change policy, we’ll have it early in the new year,” he said. [Tony Abbott’s tax-free carbon plan. Matthew Franklin. The Australian. December 3 2009]

[2] — See Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme at Wikipedia. Accessed December 4 2009.

[3] — The world’s four largest coal-consuming countries have announced a pact to share technology for limiting emissions of greenhouse gases. The US, China, India, Australia – plus Japan and South Korea – signed what is being seen as a rival to the Kyoto Protocol to curb climate change, which the US and Australia have refused to sign.

The new pact will be known as the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate. It allows the countries to set their own goals for emissions of greenhouse gases, with no enforcement measures. This is in contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrial nations to accept legally binding emissions targets. [US-led emissions pact seen as Kyoto rival. Fred Pearce. Newscientist. July 28 2005]

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