News | 24th Feb, 2011

Carbon price welcomed despite lack of detail

Thursday, 24 February 2011
Paula Kruger, ABC News PM

MARK COLVIN: Environmentalists and welfare groups say they are relieved that there's there is finally agreement between the Gillard Government, the Greens and key independents on a carbon price mechanism.

But they too are concerned about the difficult detail ahead and about whether there'll be enough help for households and the renewable energy industry.

Paula Kruger reports.

PAULA KRUGER: Despite its lack of detail there has been a lot of goodwill resulting from today's carbon price announcement, but it is unclear how long that goodwill will last.

Doctor Richard Denniss is the executive director of the Australian Institute. He says it's a pragmatic decision and a welcomed sign of progress.

RICHARD DENNISS: Rather than get caught up in – should we reduce emissions by 25 per cent or 5 per cent and what is China doing? What this process allows us to do is say, well what's the starting price that we're comfortable with? What's an escalator for that price? How can it go up over time?

And then, you know, down the track when there is a bit more certainty around the world, then we can come back and revisit some of the sort of arguments about targets and emissions trading. But not let the details get in the way of getting on with the job.

PAULA KRUGER: Professor Warwick McKibbin from the ANU has also welcomed the announcement but says too little is known about the plan.

WARWICK MCKIBBIN: What's now needed is to have the correct structures in place to get the medium-to long-term carbon pricing framework right and that's what's missing from today's announcement.

PAULA KRUGER: That's what's missing and that's the difficult part, isn't it?

WARWICK MCKIBBEN: It is and I think the idea of going from a carbon tax to a carbon trading system in the way it's described is probably not what will happen. You need the trading system and the carbon price to be occurring roughly at the same time.

PAULA KRUGER: Mark Wakeham is the campaign director of Environment Victoria. He says some of the difficult details ahead are the starting price of carbon, how much will go to households to help cope with higher prices and how much will go to polluters in the form of compensation.

MARK WAKEHAM: These really important decisions will determine whether pollution actually rises or falls in the next five years in Australia and of course the whole purpose of introducing a price tag on pollution should be to ensure that our pollution is falling.

PAULA KRUGER: For Tony Mohr, the manager of the Climate Change Program for the Australian Conservation Foundation a carbon price is long overdue.

TONY MOHR: The majority of Australians have supported climate action for many years now. They're mainly frustrated by the bickering and the infighting between political parties and it's understandable when you're hearing business voices saying that the world's going to end and the sky's going to fall in.

But they also know that the science consistently tells them that we need to cut our pollution if we're going to avoid some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

PAULA KRUGER: The Australian Institute's Richard Denniss has little sympathy for some of the concerns expressed today by some in big business.

RICHARD DENISS: Anyone who's bought a power station in the last 10 years, anyone who's retrofitted or invested in any big polluting technology has known full well that this would come. So there'll be a lot of, there'll be a lot of claims that the sky is falling but these people have been building the scaffolding to hold it up for quite some time now.

PAULA KRUGER: And then there are Australian households. Dr Cassandra Goldie is the chief executive officer of ACOSS and despite assurances from Greens Leader Bob Brown's she is concerned about how low income households will cope.

CASSANDRA GOLDIE: People on low incomes are the ones that have the least room to move and to adapt when prices go up. So we need to ensure both compensation and also energy efficiency measures.

PAULA KRUGER: All sides of the debate insist on getting it right, but there are different opinions on what right is. All do agree that the transition to a low carbon economy will be a big and difficult job.

MARK COLVIN: Paula Kruger.