Coalition climate plan achieves right balance
WHILE we all must tread lightly on our planet – giving the benefit of the doubt to the life force that sustains us all – we need to ensure that the cost of environmental protection and pollution abatement is balanced against the impact on the household budget and the economy as a whole.
Australia has never shied away from its responsibility as a global citizen to meet the challenges of climate change, having joined in the original international meeting in Brazil and signing up to the Kyoto Treaty more recently. When world leaders met in Copenhagen just under five years ago, the former prime minister Kevin Rudd failed to bring his colleagues around to meet what he’d cited as the greatest moral challenge of our time – a commitment Mr Rudd himself gave up on just months later.
Despite this failure, Labor pushed on with its carbon tax and the expensive and prescriptive mechanisms that went with it, provoking a breakdown of any community consensus and a rejection of the heavy hit delivered to electricity costs for each and every household.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has delivered on his alternative approach – to abandon the Labor tax and seek to abate carbon pollution through a series of incentives under the banner of direct action – and this week he has released the next phase of the policy, a new 2030 emissions-reduction target which will be taken to the next international summit in Paris in late 2016.
Mr Abbott, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, has presented a package which will not satisfy the radicals who want to close down the Australian coal industry and stop all mining, and neither will it make happy the radicals who regard climate change as a myth cooked up in an international conspiracy. This is what responsible and balanced climate policy does – it aims for the middle ground, taking the science into due regard but also considering what the cost might be.
There is no point having a climate policy that imposes an unbearable cost on households through punishing increases in electricity prices and burdens enterprise so much that jobs are lost and growth sacrificed.
The new target aims for a 26 per cent reduction on 2005 emission levels with an aspiration to reach a 28 per cent cut if circumstances permit – which the Government believes is possible but uncertainties prevent it from making a firm commitment to at this time.
This will be achieved primarily from the next stage of direct action – a plan for beefed-up incentives for business and individuals to cut emissions after 2020 which will be detailed by October – and adapting new technologies such as enhanced battery power.
The targets will not be easy to achieve but if we are to keep with the international mainstream on climate policy and emissions abatement this is where we need to aim.
Mr Abbott reminds us his target is “slap bang in the middle” of those being pursued by comparable countries – which should take the force out of the counter arguments put forward by the climate lobby and its political backers in Labor and the Greens.
The Coalition’s lower cost, lower impact direct action plan has been successful in its first iteration and the Government says the next phase will also deliver on its ambitions and “meet and beat” the targets. This indicates Australia could get to where the community wants our policies to land without adopting an economy-wide market mechanism such as an emissions trading scheme – an approach that is becoming less attractive to governments around the world.
We should give this policy approach a chance. There has been too much chopping and changing of climate policy over the past decade, making it difficult for business to plan with any certainty. Just what Australia’s emissionsreduction targets are and the mechanisms used to get there are of critical importance to businesses making decisions with horizons into the coming decades. If we are going to make a difference with our climate policies we need certainty, and to stop suffering the kind of sudden shifts seen in recent years.