Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Garnaut review - emissions trading scheme discussion paper

Professor Ross Garnaut's blueprint for an Australian emissions trading scheme was released last Thursday (pdf). I haven't got past the exec summary yet, but Robert Merkel has an excellent discussion at Larvatus Prodeo today, and econobloggers Harry Clarke, Peter Martin and Joshua Gans had some thoughtful comments over the weekend. And it's received a lot of press over the past few days.

The big issue appears to be whether to auction permits or hand them out to exsiting emitters. More on this from me later, but it seems the debate has finally moved beyond the myth coming from the electricity industry that they need to be issued with free permits or else electricity prices will rise, disproportionately hurting the poor who spend a greater proportion of their income on energy. Electricity prices will inevitably rise under an emissions trading scheme: to a large extent, that's the point. Giving handouts to existing generators in the hope that they pass some savings on to households and not just their shareholders is naive - particularly when their competitors (new entrants to the market) will have to buy permits on the open market. And it's not necessary: the best way to compensate poor households, surely, is to use the revenue gained from auctioning permits to target tax cuts at lower incomes.

On that point, I notice that petrol producers have run the same line in recent days: petrol should be exempt from an emissions trading scheme because families are struggling enough with petrol prices already. Aside from the fact that these kind of suggestions wholly undermine the aim of a trading scheme, there's better ways to help out struggling families than subsidising their energy use. How about reducing their overall tax burden? They can spend their savings on petrol if they so desire but how about we leave it up to them what they spend it on, rather than what petrol or electricity companies think they should spend it all on (oddly enough, petrol and electricity)?

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