News | 5th May, 2010

After the flailing…time for direct action

John Hepburn, Rooted
Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Weak and incoherent are probably the most appropriate words. But words, of course, are not sufficient.

Kevin Rudd’s problem is that he talked a big game on climate and hasn’t delivered. If he was serious about the great moral challenge of our age, he would have introduced the 20% renewable energy target as one of his first pieces of legislation. Instead he let the renewable energy industry languish for nearly two years before introducing a dog of scheme that needed to be overhauled immediately.

Much has been made of his failure to continue selling the CPRS to the Australian public and for letting support wane, but the problem was the excessive weight given to the CPRS in the first place. Yes a price on carbon has an important role in driving the shift to a low carbon economy, but only alonside other policy measures that promote good stuff and prohibit the bad. The problem now is that most of these other measures aren’t in place, and havn’t even been seriously discussed.

For Abotts part, he’ll most likely need to find something new to oppose on climate change given that he appears manifestly unwilling to develop a serious policy himself.

While there will be inevitable swings in the polls, climate change isn’t going away as in issue. Lindsay Tanner knows this and he, more than most in Cabinet, should be worried about the ALP policy vaccum. Thankfully, there are quite a few things that can be done.

As a very first step we should stop making things worse. There are currently plans for 12 new coal power stations around Australia which, if built, would increase Australia’s total emissions by around 7%. A simple first step would be to say “no new coal power stations”. Or if it is too unpallatable to put the words “no” and “coal” in the same sentence, they could stipulate an emissions intensity standard that would effectively disallow new coal unless most of the emissions are captured and sequestered from day one (for the CCS optimists out there).

Another thing they could do would be to decide to switch off Australia’s dirtiest power station – Hazelwood in the Latrobe Valley – and replace it with a combination of energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy. While it might sound like a tokenistic act, this one power station accounts for almost 3% of Australia’s total emissions so closing it would go part way to meeting the pathetically low 5% emissions reduction target and would be a good first step. International Power, the owners of Hazelwood, have expressed a willingness to be bought out, probably at an over-inflated price. Environment Victoria and other groups are campaigning to close Hazelwood by 2012 and no doubt Mr Tanner will come under quite a bit of pressure to make it happen.

Politics, of course, is about symbols and stories. It seems as though good policy is almost sytematically rejected if it doesn’t allow politicians to tell a useful story to the electorate. Carbon trading was always going to be a difficult sell, but banning new coal plants or closing Hazelwood would be profoundly different. They are visceral acts that tell a very powerful story. They would be like markers put down in our psyche – to break from the past and symbolise that a transition is underway towards a clean energy future.

And they are both direct action. Kevin? Tony?

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