A brief word on the carbon price

By YCAN Convenor Pablo Brait

The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) made up of Labor, Greens and independents has just released the framework for a carbon price.  There are very few details other than the starting date of 1 July 2012 and the notion that it will be a fixed price (essentially a carbon tax) for the first three to five years before shifting to a cap-and-trade scheme. Agriculture will be excluded but all other sectors are potentially included.
Predictably the dinosaurs that make up much of the Liberal and National parties together with the usual fossil fuel corporations are launching their scare campaign against action on the climate crisis. It is unfortunate that they continue to deny climate science and lead a charge against action even as the impacts of more frequent and intense weather extremes have been hitting us hard.
It is important that carbon price debate doesn’t distract us from what we really need to do – that is, reduce emissions in line with what the climate science says is necessary. That means getting to zero emissions and taking carbon out of the atmosphere until it is back to around 300 parts per million.
A carbon price will not achieve this, although it can help.
The problem is that the Labor Party and Julia Gillard give the impression that they have no vision for a zero emissions future – rather, they just want to tick the box of climate action, appease the majority of Australians that want “something” to be done so they can move on. This is made obvious by the fact that the Labor Party still supports the expansion of coal exports and the 12 new coal-fired power stations currently planned across Australia.
Additionally, with policy settings as they currently stand, a carbon price will only achieve a shift from coal to fossil fuel gas – still a highly emitting and non-renewable fuel, with severe climate change and energy security implications. Baseload renewable energy will not be supported by a carbon price unless it is very high (around $200 per tonne), which is not politically feasible or economically desirable.
What we need is a vision for Australia to reach 100% renewable energy as soon as possible (and the Zero Carbon Australia plan shows it is possible in ten years). No policy will be good enough unless it is incorporated within this framework. To that end what is needed in addition to a carbon price includes:.

  • An end to all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies;
  • A feed-in tariff for large-scale renewable energy – particularly baseload solar thermal and wind, which are commercially available right now;
  • An end to land clearing and logging of forests;
  • A ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure;
  • A transition plan for communities and workers who lose employment and economic activity due to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy so they can continue to work and prosper in new industries (domestic renewable energy creates two jobs for every job lost in coal so it won’t be that hard).

A carbon price can help as long as it is robust and accompanied by the above initiatives. The MPCCC should design a carbon price that includes:.

  • No “compensation” for polluting corporations;
  • No links to offsets here or overseas;
  • Inclusion of petrol and gas;
  • Adequate compensation for low income households;
  • Indexed increases in the carbon price higher than the background inflation.

Thank goodness (and those that campaigned) we have a hung parliament and the Greens have the balance of power in the Senate. There would be no debate on a carbon price if that had not happened.