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Issue # 1418      8 July 2009

The more you pollute, the more you get paid

The Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) Bills failed to gain majority support in the Senate, with the Opposition, for all the wrong reasons, and the Australian Greens, for sound reasons, opposed to it. West Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam shot the legislation down in flames during the Second Reading debate on June 23. The following are extracts from his statement. (The full text is on the Parliament House website, in the Senate Hansard, June 23 page 60.)

The package of Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bills that is before us fails the test of consistency with climate science. It fails to keep faith with the millions of Australians who voted for an end to 12 years of energy policy written by the transnational oil and gas companies and the coalmining industry.

The bills enable an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to the most carbon intensive industries in the country. They lock in a target so low and so compromised by loopholes as to amount to no target at all.

They fail the test of intergenerational equity, binding Australian delegates to Copenhagen with what amounts to a blocking position, a refusal to entertain the Bali negotiating range of 25 percent to 40 percent, which must be the bare minimum starting point for the crucial talks later this year.

Most tragically, this legislation fails the test of being better than nothing at all.

On Professor Ross Garnaut’s advice the government has pursued a market-based mechanism of a cap-and-trade system which embeds a carbon price in the economy. But this scheme manages to shield the nation’s most polluting industries from the impacts of that price, displacing those costs on to the broader community and warping the principles outlined by Professor Garnaut almost out of recognition.

It is a carbon trading scheme in which the more you pollute the more you get paid, turning the principle of a price signal inside out. It is a carbon price but only with exemptions for coal, oil and gas.

How many Senators realise that in 2008 global investment in renewable energy was greater than all investment in all fossil generation combined? I suspect that that is news to most of us here because so little of that investment is being made in Australia. According to the Global trends in sustainable energy investment 2009 report conducted for the United Nations Environment Program, 2008 was the first year that global investment in new power generation capacity from renewable energy technologies – not including large hydro – outpaced investment in fossil fuelled technologies.

Australia left behind

Wind, solar and other clean technologies attracted a US$140 billion investment compared with $110 billion for gas and coal for electrical power generation. If you include energy efficiency and other measures, more than $155 billion of new money was invested in clean energy companies and projects in 2008, a year in which the rest of the economy was really only generating bad news.

The growth in investment in clean energy was largely due to record investments by China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. These are the very nations that Australian politicians love to cite as a reason for Australia to do nothing, and they are now leaving Australia behind. Europe and North America are storming ahead.

In Australia we are cursed with a political culture that cannot see past a smokestack. Our leaders assume that only coal and nuclear can generate base load energy; that energy efficiency is a waste of time and that renewables will only ever be a sideshow. All of these assumptions are dead wrong and mean that we keep coming up with the wrong answers.

Last week I commented on a report by Fremantle-based Australian company Carnegie Corporation Ltd which showed how building 1,500 megawatts of wave energy power stations by 2020 would create 3,210 Australian jobs and enough energy to power 1.2 million households. The report by that company projects that, by 2050, 14,380 jobs could be created, producing 12,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power.

Australia has the world’s most abundant renewable energy resources and we are doing almost nothing with them.

Western Australia has world-leading solar, wind, wave, biomass and geothermal resources, and they are treated as irrelevant by a leadership that seems to understand resources only as something that can be burnt, blown up or chopped down. With the right policy settings, Australia could be renewably powered within a generation and could permanently leave the concept of climate change and fossil fuel depletion behind.

The government seems to think that introducing a CPRS will somehow be enough to drive a change in transport habits. But, of course, it will not go close.

The transport sector is Australia’s third largest emitter of carbon pollution. It accounts for around 14 percent of total emissions. Road transport – cars, trucks and light commercial buses – accounts for about 90 percent of total transport emissions.

We know that the Commonwealth spends 12 times more on roads than it does on rail, and we know that public transport uses fewer resources for infrastructure, fewer vehicles and less fuel. Trams emit half the carbon pollution of cars, at least per passenger kilometre. When petrol is $8 a litre, the urban freeways that we are building now will make no sense whatsoever.

I very much support the recommendations being made today by the Rapid, Active and Affordable Transport Alliance. This is a group made up of a very broad coalition of organisations and includes health organisations such as Diabetes Australia, trade unions, transport advocacy organisations, city councils and environment groups including the ACF.

They are calling on the government to rebalance transport spending by dedicating two-thirds of the funding to public transport and one-third to roads.

I want to conclude with some thoughts about the community campaigners who will react to the huge missed opportunity that the CPRS represents: the climate action groups around the country and the ordinary people who will take action because this chamber has failed.

Even the head of the United Nations climate change branch, Yvo de Boer, is getting a little desperate. He spoke to non-government organisations last week and said, “If you could get your members out on the street before Copenhagen, that would be incredibly valuable”. That is what it has come to.

With the parliament unable to decide between inadequate action and no action at all, it again falls to the community to make its voice heard and demand strong action.

This parliament will one day soon have to pass a comprehensive set of measures to confront these challenges directly, to harness Australian ingenuity and the strength of our economy to build a renewable society. Until that day, the real hope in Australian politics lies outside this building in the movement for a safe climate, which is growing around the country.

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