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Federal climate policy courtesy of Sir Humphrey Appleby?

By Andrew Grant. CEO:2 CO2 Group Ltd
As leader of Australia’s largest carbon offset company, I believe it’s timely to make some pointed and public observations on climate policy options before the Federal election. They are ‘pointed’ because, quite frankly, the twists and turns and bizarre politics of Australian climate policy mean it’s impossible for any company to commit to a business model or for the public to believe anything tangible is planned.
Sir Humphrey Appleby – the sitcom public servant – has clearly won. Decisions are just far too “courageous” and nothing is being done. Our nation is now in a climate policy vacuum. Worse: the electorate is being offered policy options that are content-free.
The current situation is best described as ‘back to the future’ looking very much like the pre-1997 climate debate. In over 14 years we have managed to find reverse gear as the preferred mode of moving forward: or rather appearing to do so.
A quick history lesson in federal climate policy.
Nationwide, Greenhouse Gas Policy was significantly advanced in 1997 (a full 10 years after the Kyoto Protocol was developed) with the formation of the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO).
Amongst other things, the AGO developed a series of discussion papers that developed the basic, but strong framework, of an Australian Emissions Trading Scheme.
Yes, that was 1999!
Since then, a variety of trading schemes have been developed across the globe with the largest in operation being the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme commencing in 2005. New Zealand commenced its ETS at the start of this month.
Incredulously it seems now, the first legislated carbon-trading scheme in the world was developed by the Carr Government in NSW and went live 1 January 2003. This scheme has now been operating with great harmony and none of the economic shocks that the fear-mongers would have us believe.
So what’s on offer leading into the 2010 Federal Election?
A Carbon Trading Scheme? Economy-wide initiatives? Substantial reform of polluting industries?
No: it’s a meeting – some time next year – of 150 ordinary Australians. This committee approach would do Sir Humphrey proud.
Appallingly, this is the key policy initiative in response to deferring action on capping emissions and pricing carbon until at least 2013: and then only if there is international consensus.
The proposal is as ridiculous as it is embarrassing to Australia’s global position on the environment.
So while both major parties outdo each other with vacuous policy, political leader after political leader falls mute.
But critically – worryingly – greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow. This is the key point. The longer we procrastinate as a nation, the worse the problem gets and the time available to implement meaningful action is stolen.
Both the major political parties have committed Australia to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 5% of 2000 levels by 2020. Without a price on carbon, this modest target is absolutely unachievable. The mandatory and voluntary emission schemes under operation in Australia provide strong guidance on what works now.
Carbon forestry, energy efficiency, improved power generator standards, combined cycle gas technology, renewable energy, improved agricultural practices: all offer here and now solutions. We must implement them at scale and with urgency. And to do this a carbon price is fundamental.
Prospective technologies such as carbon capture and storage, low emissions coal combustion and geosequestration are important but in reality they’re options for the future. They need further development before they can be considered viable in meeting Australia’s emission reduction targets.
I appreciate that my commercial stake in the carbon issue will cause some to dismiss it with a “well he would say that wouldn’t he?” Please know: I do not make statements like this lightly. I am just staggered that, in this most crucial issue, our politicians are acting more like Sir Humphrey than Sir Humphrey.
We need action.
Australian voters have already shown that they want action on climate change: they did not like the recent major shift on the CPRS – nor seeing New Zealand take the lead.
This is one issue where Australians really want policy that moves us forward. Can we see that during the next four weeks.. please?