Following on from Tuesday's post, here are some of my thoughts on the first few ideas in the opposition Climate Change Blueprint. I’ll try and deal with all the proposals in there eventually!
Ratifying the Kyoto protocol
A lot has been written about this elsewhere and this is just a restatement of an existing policy so I’m not going to do any sort of complete analysis of the pros and cons for Australia of ratifying the Protocol. I’ll just make a few comments relevant to Labor’s policy to ratify if elected at the next election:
The timing is awkward. The next federal election will take place sometime around the end of 2007. The first commitment period under the Protocol begins in 2008. Basically, the beginning of 2008 is not the best time to ratify – we’ll have to meet the targets but we won’t get much benefit of investment in carbon offset measures because these are happening now so they’re up and running in time for the commitment period. It’s also a bit awkward for the opposition to commit now to meeting Kyoto targets that it doesn’t have control over.
That said, it does seem that Australia is on track (PDF) to meet its generous Kyoto targets, and I certainly think ratification is better late than never. What’s really important is what happens after the first commitment period (which must really be deeper cuts plus some obligations on developing countries) and I think Australia’s position in the negotiations for this would be strengthened considerably if it’s shown some good faith by committing to cuts in the first round by ratifying Kyoto. I think that’s important and no-one seems to have talked about it.
Working towards 60% emissions cuts by 2050
A target is good. This target is ambitious but achievable, about what’s needed (for Australia to do its part). I guess the question is, what does committing to this figure mean? Governments will come and go between now and 2050 – who’s responsible? The South Australian government has recently committed to the same target – 60% reduction by 2050 – and to the Environment Minister reporting annually to Parliament on progress against this goal. I guess this is what is envisaged and it’s a good thing. In reality each successive government will blame its predecessor for not doing enough so I don’t know whether setting this target implies that it will be met, but it’s still good to enunciate a concrete long-term policy goal.
Establishing a national emissions trading system
Hm, this is a big one that really warrants a separate post. So all I’ll say for now is that my opinion for what it’s worth is that emissions trading is a good idea and a national system is obviously desirable. I think an effective national greenhouse strategy has to contain either a national carbon tax or a national emissions trading system.
Inserting a climate change trigger in the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
Currently, under the EPBC Act, projects and developments that have a significant effect on a matter on national environmental significance must be approved by the federal Environment Minister. This proposal would make climate change one of these matters of national environmental significance.
In practical terms, this would mean that large energy-intensive projects – such as power plants or desalination plants – would require federal government approval. The same would also probably apply to large projects that threaten carbon sinks (perhaps large-scale clearing or the damming of a forest valley?).
This idea has been kicking around for a while – my understanding is that it was first proposed by the Howard government in 2000 (via then Minister for Environment Senator Hill) but was knocked on the head by industry opposition.
I’m mildly supportive of the idea. The better way to deal with problems like greenhouse emissions that mostly come from a wide range of small sources is to implement broad policies such as a carbon tax or trading scheme. But in the absence of those schemes, or perhaps to complement them, it doesn’t hurt to have large sources subject to some environmental impact assessment.
As far as I know, the Minister has only refused consent for two projects in the 6 year history of the EPBC Act. But it has imposed conditions that reduce the adverse environmental impacts of many others. It seems to me that a ‘greenhouse trigger’ would be a good way to ensure that energy-intensive projects take all practical steps to minimise their greenhouse impacts. Its overall effect on Australia’s emissions, however, would be modest. In particular, this would only deal with new sources of emissions - not existing sources.