Australia takes lead on climate change?
I have SO had to control myself over the last couple of weeks while I take a pre-Xmas break. So much stuff to blog about! I’ll start off this post by saying I am very pleased that the Australian people had the good sense to kick out Howard and usher in the Rudd Government. Funny thing is that growing up, my family were die-hard Liberal voters. And I voted Liberal for many years. But a few things convinced me to give Rudd a chance – Howard wasn’t taking climate change seriously (until he caught on too late that it was a voting issue); he was a fear mongerer; and I couldn’t see what vision he had for Australia moving forward.
But what really convinced me was the debate between Rudd and Howard. Rudd is the first Labor leader who could hold his own against Howard, but what incensed me was the two naughty schoolchildren – Costello and Downer – in the audience, sniggering away whilst the debate was going on. And Costello as PM? NO thanks.
So we have a new Australian Government and probably Howard will go down in history as being leader of the first Western government to be brought down by the climate change issue. What is in store for Australia? Well, we know now that one of Rudd’s first actions was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol – good to see a core election promise already fulfilled and I can feel a little less embarrassed about living in a country that is a major carbon emitter. But ratifying Kyoto is a first and an easy step. But it is a step that hopefully will see Australia getting back to being a nation in its own right and not tied to the apron strings of the US. And by sending Senator Penny Wong, Australia’s first climate change Minister, to the Bali Climate Change conference, Rudd is signalling to the world that Australia is prepared to take a strong lead in global discussions – can you imagine one year ago ever believing that Australia would be sending an openly gay woman of Chinese descent to a global climate change conference!
But I’ll be watching to see if this is backed up with action. Australia is now legally bound to restrict greenhouse gas emissions to 108% of 1990 levels during the 2008-12 commitment period and penalties will be set out under the post-Kyoto deal that kicks in after 2012. Plus setting a target to reduce emissions by 60% on 2000 levels by 2050. So the heat is on so to speak – we are not on track to meet our 2012 target despite Howard having said yeah, we are. Labor is going to have to switch pronto from coal-fired power so emissions can start to drop. And what is really important is to clarify the 2020 target for emissions but I don’t think this will be done until the Rudd Government gets hold of the report by economist Ross Garnaut in 2008, which will outline the impact of interim emissions targets (Garnaut Review of Climate Change and its Economic Impact). Garnaut gave a lecture on November 29 and reading his notes gives me hope. Instead of focusing on the risk Australia may face because of the importance of our trade that derives from emission-intensive industries (ie the nasty fear mongering bit that Howard always yapped about), he talks about how Australia can take a lead internationally on climate change. Australia is well-positioned to:
- use our rich resources for solar, geothermal and wind energy
- we have large deposits of natural gas, the exports of which can be increased in a world focused on effective mitigation
- we have favourable sites for effective carbon capture and storage
Garnaut argues that Australia has many strengths that will facilitate and render less costly domestic mitigation. Garnaut states: “Australia can ensure that its own mitigation regime fits productively into the international regime which we judge to be feasible for the future. Our own announced emissions targets should relate approximately to the emissions budget that we judge to be likely to emerge from a global discussion of principles for allocating rights among countries. A complementary step would be to work with others, including developing countries in our region, to encourage their
own development of internationally compatible mitigation policies, encouraged by opportunities for trade in permits and technological exchange….We are too late to be one of the first to move amongst developed countries, but we can cease to be a laggard. Australia’s own adoption of an efficient mitigation approach, carefully designed to encourage others to move towards effective contributions to global mitigation, can play an important international role. Our action would be a step towards resolution of the repeated prisoners’ dilemma” (ie if there was a single international negotiation on climate change where each country took its own policy position, developed within the framework of its national interests and without communication with other countries, no country would choose to do anything). You can read Garnaut’s lecture and gain a sense of his thinking here.