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Issue #1497      13 April 2011


A national climate plan needed

The tables keep turning and the media is having a field day. First former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd dropped Labor’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) under pressure from Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan amongst others. The mining sector united in a massive campaign against the imposition of a tax on super profits in the mining sector. They claimed to have put billions of dollars of future investments on hold.

They even organised public protest actions and played a critical role, along with their right-wing mates in caucus and some in the the union movement, in the coup that installed Gillard as prime minister. The excuse was that Labor’s fortunes were sliding badly in the opinion polls. Gillard quickly set about appeasing the mining magnates with a watered down version of the tax on mining profits.

Twelve months on, the “no carbon tax” Gillard is up against a highly coordinated campaign by the mining sector against her carbon tax, a first step towards the full resurrection of the ETS. They have organised anti-carbon tax rallies such as the one in Sydney last weekend, and were well supported by climate change deniers from the Coalition. Labor leaders including Wayne Swan joined a rival pro-carbon tax rally.

Last week saw a steady stream of mining CEOs and the Minerals Council of Australia lobbying Climate Change Minister Greg Combet and Treasurer Wayne Swan. Cynthia Carroll, boss of the world’s fourth largest mining company Anglo American, flew in from Britain to join the anti-carbon tax lobby. BHP, Rio Tinto, Woodside and BlueScope Steel have all met with government leaders. The industry is again threatening to pull the plug on future investments. Labor is again sliding backwards in the opinion polls and the knives are being sharpened in Labor’s backrooms. It all has a feeling of déjà vu.

The internal party power struggles and the battles over the carbon tax have diverted attention from the fact that neither the carbon tax nor the ETS will bring about the major transformation in energy production that is required to address climate change. Rudd and now Gillard steadfastly refuse to recognise the urgency of the situation or the need for government to take strong action.

Their approach is based on economic solutions and reliance on the “markets”.

Emission trading schemes in capitalist societies are in essence a license to pollute that favours polluters in rich nations and a cop-out for governments not prepared to tackle the issue of greenhouse gas reduction. Australia has the highest per capita emissions of any country. The government has set the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a pathetic five percent by 2020 – based on year 2000 emissions (only two percent compared with 1990). Its key climate change mechanism – “putting a price on carbon” and later developing some sort of ETS – relies on private enterprise to produce a result.

The environmental crisis has been largely created by the rapacious exploitation of the Earth’s resources by capitalism. Humanity faces the need to fundamentally change society, its purpose and motivation, to one that recognises humanity’s place in nature and lives with nature on the basis of sustainability. Such a society is a socialist one. At the present rate of change the planet will warm by up to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. This will threaten the survival of many species and the viability of agriculture, and will produce masses of refugees fleeing rising sea levels, food shortages, diminishing fresh water resources and other environmental problems.

The Australian government has a responsibility to take control and plan development taking into account that environmental factors are the basis for a sustainable future. It must develop a national energy plan, with legislated timetables and targets, for transition to an ecologically sustainable energy system. This includes public ownership of electricity generation, distribution and supply infrastructure; and making energy efficiency and conservation key determinants of urban planning and government economic and industry policy.

Instead of subsidising the polluters to pollute, government subsidies should be used to provide incentives to encourage consumers to choose renewable energy technologies and to transfer subsidies and government support from fossil and nuclear fuel sectors (eg the primary industry fuel rebate) to energy efficiency and renewable energy, including research and development and conversion programs. This should be done in consultation with trade unions and communities affected, to ensure that training and other measures are put in place to protect workers’ incomes and the future of those communities.

Next article – Perth prepares for CHOGM

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