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Carbon Tax and Then

Carbon Tax and Then

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Published by David Spratt

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Published by: David Spratt on Jan 18, 2012
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A carbon tax..and then?
David SprattClimate Action Centre
www.climateactioncentre.org
First published in “Dissent” magazine • December 2010
 
mmr2010/2011
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
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 caro pric, ad h... ?
fheillgovenenfilsinisnew-founenhusisfoonpie,i’seuk.buishenough,sksdadratt.
CHCes
Conservation Foundation, ClimateInstitute and orldwide ildlieFund supporting abor’s decisionto make the polluter-riendlytrading scheme dependent onthe outcome o the Copenhagensummit?Beore the doors had closedon Copenhagen, this strategy wasin tatters, and udd’s credibility.im Flannery was a lone voice asCopenhagen concluded in thinkingthat ‘our prime minister has playedan outstanding role ... e’s beenworking very hard or the lastew months... and he’s just beenantastic all the way, he just shinesat it... he’s been really importantthrough these meetings’. [By ay2010, Flannery elt a ‘’prooundbetrayal o trust’’ and said he wasunlikely to vote or abor again.]But rather than going to adouble dissolution in early 2010beore the penny had droppedthat the CS was ounderingon Copenhagen’s consequences,udd procrastinated as bbottraged. he path rom abor’sbackip to udd’s loss o the primeministership was then but a shortwalk; rom a condemned prisoner’scell to the political gallows.abor’s complete humiliationand collapse onto the oppositionbenches was prevented onlybecause three o the independentsand he Greens’  dam Bandtin the new parliament’s lowerhouse are more committed onclimate that abor, and couldn’tabide the idea o denier bbottas prime minister. ll said gettingsome action on climate wasimportant in deciding to backabor.he question is whether thesceptics as abor trashed itsel.abor decided to marginalise heGreens and reused to negotiatewith them or two years, doomingthe CS emissions-tradinglegislation to deeat in the Senate.he consequences o this brilliantstrategy were a rise in he Greens’electoral standing, and a hung parliament in which abor had toelevate he Greens to the centre o the climate policy-making in orderto maintain power.It is difcult to think o a fnerexample o political blowback.abor’s sales job was hamperedby enny ong, who appearedtactically inept and emotionallyunengaged with ‘the great moralchallenge o our time’ she wascharged to answer. Shiting herrom climate suggests at leastone lesson has been learned.ogether, udd and ongcompletely misread the trajectoryo international negotiations. heytied the success o abor’s climate policy to a process that wasobviously ailing long beore it diedat the December 2009 Copenhagenclimate conerence, in whatSweden’s nvironment inister, ndreas Carlgren, called a ‘’greatailure’’.hile much o the worldrecognised that commitmentsunder Kyoto were a disaster, in ustralia Kyoto was used in 2006and 2007 as a stick with whichto beat the oward Government.hat suited abor and the bigenvironment Gs, but thisstrategy reinorced a public viewthat the international processon which Kyoto was built couldsave us. ow else to explaingroups such as the ustralian
t
-IDS F  IY
 vote lost by abor at the ugust ederal election ellto he Greens, more because o climate than any other reason.‘I will not backip on climate’,declared billboards around the seato elbourne or the successulGreens’ candidate, dam Bandt.abor had no answer.Climate policy — and itsabsence — was
the
 political storyin 2010. he two major parties,lacking credibility, wanted to takeclimate o the election agenda,and both lost. ow dependent onhe Greens and three climate-savvy independents, the second-term ederal abor governmentcannot aord to ail again onclimate action. But has it learnedthe lessons, how genuine is itsnew-ound commitment, and areabor and he Greens even in thesame ballpark?
o of 2010
Climate had already laid wasteto the opposition leaderships o Brendan elson and alcolmurnbull when Kevin uddmade his atal decision in ay2010. It was to accede to the views o deputy leader Gillard,treasurer Swan and the climate-sceptical S ight action anddump abor’s emissions-tradinglegislation. It created, in ossGarnaut’s terms, a ‘policy vacuum’,but udd can only blame himsel.udd’s strategy was to useclimate as a wedge to split thecoalition, but succeeded only inuniting the opposition around thedenier bbott, whose rise gavecomort to a chorus o proessional
 
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mmr2010/2011
 processes are exempt romemission standards announced byabor during the election.]But at $20 a tonne, thesubstitution will be to gas-fred power stations, not renewableenergy o which wind is currentlythe lowest-cost, but not yetcompetitive at this carbon price.For now, it is the mandatoryrenewable energy target o 20 per cent by 2020 that is drivinginvestment in wind, and solarhot water. he energy sectoranticipates (and some such asCS-wreckers B Billitonare advocating) carbon pricesat low levels that make gas theuel o choice, a promised goldenage witnessed in the scrambleor coal seam gas. In the UnitedStates, or example, the nergyInormation dministrationanticipates the need or 250megawatts o additional capacityby 2035, actoring in retiring coal plants and increased demand.atural gas accounts or 46 percent o capacity additions in its predictions, with renewables 37 per cent, coal 12 per cent andnuclear 3 per cent.o avoid locking in a new, ossil-uel dependent industry based ongas, a carbon price must eitherstart at a much higher level, and/ or it is made legislatively clearthat the price will rise to a level ina timerame that does not makegas the new coal. Complementarymeasures will also be necessary,including a eed-in tari andsupport to drive investment torenewable energy rather than gas.hilst he Greens have annew ulti-arty Climate ChangeCommittee into which abor, heGreens and the independentshave cast their ate, can deliver.Can they agree on a crediblemechanism or putting an eective price on carbon, along withcomplementary measures? ndcan all o them listen to the expertslong enough to realise that dinkyclimate policies are little more thanan act o collective suicide, thatthe laws o physics and chemistrywhich drive our climate systemcan be negotiated with only at ourcollective peril?
Wha pric caro?
  carbon price has a useul, butlimited role to play. It is eectivewhere there are readily availabletechnological substitutes at a costthat makes demand or carbon pollution relatively elastic. Inelectricity generation, or example,the starting carbon price beingmooted o around $20 a tonne issufcient to cancel out the proftso ustralia’s dirtiest acility, thebrown-coal azelwood powerstation in ictoria. For others, itwould so dent margins as to deterbanks unding the constructiono any new coal power stations.[here are plans or up to adozen new coal-fred powerstations across every state exceptasmania: the  governmenthas cleared the way or threecoal-fred power station projects,there are two large plants on thedrawing board or S, and twobeing developed in Queensland.hose part-way through approval
…ca all of hmli o hxpr logough o raliha diky climapolici ar lilmor ha aac of collcivuicid, ha hlaw of phyicad chmirywhich driv ourclima ymca  goiadwih oly a ourcollciv pril?

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