Political theatre aside, there is a plethora of confused opinion buzzing around in the ether regarding the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
There’s the economists view as reported by Robert Gottliebsen on Business Spectator this morning which has all the overtones of the sky falling, then there’s the government spin touting the $49b package for consumers over ten years to accommodate low to middle income earners. Bearing in mind that government spin is predicated upon getting the CPRS legislation passed in the Senate this afternoon, thanks to a deal with the Liberal Party (or some of the Liberal Party, anyway) which includes a $914m decrease in consumer funding to better grease the palms of business and industry, thereby making the free market capitalists feel better about helping the planet.
And that’s what a CPRS or Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) if you prefer that acronym. Helping the planet. Not that the planet cares either way whether we pathetic human beings pay attention to the environment we live in. If we shit in our nest, we’ll die off and the planet will recover over an eye-blink in cosmic time scales. The planet will be as if we’ve never existed, life will recover, evolve and move on.
I find myself asking whether “a reduction of between 5 and 15 per cent in carbon emissions from 2000 to 2020” is going to have any effect whatsoever in the grand scheme, in light of the proposed cost to you & me, the consumer (and voter) here in Australia? Even the United States is seriously looking at a target in excess of ours, and given that nation’s previously recalcitrant attitude to climate change, that’s a huge step forward. Five to fifteen percent? Are we in any way serious? It certainly doesn’t look that way.
Then there’s the economics of the CPRS. If you care to take the time to read the governments latest release on the proposed changes to the CPRS currently before the senate, you’ll note that forward budget estimates are predicated upon a carbon price per tonne of emmission of $26/tonne. The current world carbon price is hovering around $15/tonne. Then there’s the inevitable profiteering which will occur when emission permits are handed out, which if the world carbon price stays the same, will immediately attract a post-Kyoto bargain basement sell off of the freebies by those who have them to those who don’t at an exorbitant price over the world mark, leading to a drop in the value of said freebies similar to what occurred in Europe in the latter part of last century.
This whole issue is so complex, so convoluted, that it’s little wonder the Business Council of Australia is staying quiet, preferring to be inside the political tent closer to the action, than outside complaining with no leverage when it’s needed. I strongly suspect, as Gottliebsen writes, that a CPRS for Australia, when viewed through the prism of maximum 15% emissions cuts by 2020, is little more than a cash cow for government, and a damn fat one at that. Will voters be swayed by the inevitable back pocket injections come election time? We all know they will. History proves the point. I’d suggest that one way or another – either through the Senate @ 3:45pm this afternoon, or via a double dissolution early in the new year, Australia will have a carbon trading regime in place which will net the government coffers multiple millions if not billions of surplus budget dollars, clearing the GFC-inspired spending deficit in no time flat. Rudd et al will appear as Little Jack Horner on a number of fronts, the anti-Labor parties will still be wandering in the political wilderness, we’ll all be grumbling about the 30% increase in our power bills and wondering when the handout subsidies promised as a part of the CPRS will arrive.
But will we have achieved something momentus in response to climate change? Will this era’s generations be remembered in 2079 as those who took a stand, or those who simply said, “ok, where do I sign?”