Howard – cautious about putting out the planet’s fire

The Prime Minister’s stacked Emissions Trading Task Group is comprised of airline, coal, banking, aluminium and mining interests, as well as hand-picked bureaucrats. What’s missing is any objectivity – there was not a single scientist, enviro rep. or independent person. The terms of reference required the group to protect the coal and uranium industries at any cost, so it was no surprise that their report recommended protection for the biggest polluters. This was dressed up as ‘caution’ on climate protection.

Dithering for the last 11 years is bad enough, but John Howard and his big polluting mates have actively worked to undermine global and national efforts on climate change since before Kyoto in 1997. With mounting evidence of climate damage and pressure from all quarters, he still plans to go slowly, do ‘assessments’ and waste time we can’t spare.

Howard generously offered to bring in targets by “as early as 2012”! If he finds he is forced to take action, his back-up plan is to shelter and compensate the big polluters. There would be massive windfall gains to fossil fuel companies through free emissions permits. His Task Group also recommended that money made by selling emissions permits during the first phase of the carbon trading scheme be given to the big polluters. The explanation was so that they could look into ‘low emissions technology’ – code for the unproven, expensive and high-risk approach of geosequestration.

Howard’s band of industry advisers has used crooked economics to allege pollution abatement will be costly. But many economists have shown that the costs will be hardly perceptible.

The ‘economy overboard’ lie

Stringent targets for reducing emissions would be an economic winner in the long run. It might scratch a bit of paint off projected economic growth but won’t be the fearful road crash that Howard is scare mongering.

To keep climate change down to 2 – 2.4°C warming (on 1990 levels), the cost would be less than 3% of global GDP. That’s assuming a doubling of economic growth up until 2050.

A group of 250 economists have modelled the cost of acting on climate change. They predict it will have minimal cost. Taking limited or no action will cost vastly more in the long run. The government’s own chief modeller, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), agrees that fast action on alternative energy strategies will reduce any costs by one third.

Another recent report initiated by AGL, Frontier Economics and WWF Australia, concluded that reducing greenhouse emissions is affordable and achievable in Australia. Their findings suggest the cost could be as little as between 43c and $2 per week per person to achieve a 40% emissions reduction.

That 40% reduction from current emission levels (7% reduction from 1990 levels) can be achieved in the electricity sector by 2030. Realistically, we need to aim for a much lower level than that, and much sooner. We need a year-by-year timetable not promises out into the political never-never.

If John Howard had started taking action in 2000, the nation would be six years ahead and better off economically. The major hitch is that decisive action on CO2 reduction would hit the profit margins of the fossil fuel industries, which have a history of mutual back scratching with governments.

Jill / C Milne 4.5.07, 4.6.07/Sydney Morning Herald 1.6.07

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