EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
ETS: Rudd's one-way ticket to hell
, November 28, 2009
For years, we have been told that the Copenhagen climate change summit is the last chance to save the world. Stavros Dimas, environment commissioner for the European Union (EU), said last February, "It is now 12 years since Kyoto was created. This makes Copenhagen the world's last chance to stop climate change before it passes the point of no return."
In July, Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission, said that "the next few months will be decisive for reaching a post-2012 climate agreement in Copenhagen. This agreement probably represents the world's last chance to bring climate change under control before it's too late." (www.kobenhavn2009.no).
Just last month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quoted as saying that the UN Climate Conference is the world's last chance, that there is no "plan B", and that agreement cannot be deferred beyond the Copenhagen summit. (The Guardian, October 19, 2009).
Despite all this hype, it is obvious that there will be no enforceable agreement at Copenhagen.
The recent APEC summit in Singapore, attended by leaders of major developed nations along with China, India and other Asia-Pacific nations, was unable to reach any agreement on climate change, despite draft documents promising a commitment by APEC leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to 50 per cent of 1990 levels.
According to the ABC's Linda Mottram, who covered the APEC summit, "Leaders representing about half the world's economy removed specific greenhouse gas targets for APEC countries from their final statement." (ABC Radio National's AM program, November 16, 2009). China was one of the countries which objected to setting targets in the final communiqué.
Despite President Obama's personal commitment to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, it is far from clear that the US Congress will accept it.
The US House of Representatives, where the Democrats have an overwhelming majority, carried the President's climate change bill by the narrowest of margins last June. The reason the Democrats have not pushed the issue in the US Senate is because it would be defeated, and President Obama can't afford to go to Copenhagen after suffering a decisive defeat in the US Senate.
With elections next year, there is no prospect that the US Congress will carry such a bill in 2010; and, without a firm US commitment, no international agreement is possible.Compensation
There are, however, many other hurdles in the way of an international agreement. Poor countries have insisted that the developed world - principally the United States and Western Europe - should bankroll their attempts to cut CO2 emissions, and also compensate them for the alleged effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, flood, storm and drought damage. There has been no agreement on these issues.
India, the world's fourth largest CO2 emitter, has taken the position that developed nations have achieved their high standards of living through the use of fossil fuels, and developing nations need to expand their energy usage to provide a higher standard of living for their people.
However, developed nations - including the US, the European Union and Australia - have insisted that an international agreement must include enforceable cuts to CO2 emissions by all nations.
The best that will be rescued in Copenhagen is a rhetorical declaration which will paper over the yawning gaps between the US and the EU, between industrialised nations and the major developing countries such as India and China, and over transfer payments from the advanced economies to poor countries to mitigate the effects of climate change.
It is now obvious that the summit will not reach agreement on what can be done to cut global CO2 emissions.
In these circumstances, it is astonishing that Kevin Rudd, before the Copenhagen summit has even begun, is pushing ahead with legislation that will impose major costs on Australian industry, particularly coal production and electricity generation, and ultimately lead to rapidly escalating prices for electricity and fuel.
Mr Rudd's policy is driven, at least in part, by the desire to exploit divisions on climate change within the Liberal Party-led Opposition.
When he announced the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Mr Rudd indicated that Australia would commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions both in the short and the long term.
He said at the time that if the Copenhagen summit reached a comprehensive international agreement, Australia would reduce CO2 emissions in 2020 to 25 per cent below 1990 levels. Otherwise, it would commit to a 5 per cent reduction target.
With no prospect of agreement at Copenhagen, Mr Rudd's job has just become a lot easier.
What is still not clear is why Australia should impose a new energy tax on business and consumers, when it will have no measurable effect on either Australia's or the world's climate, and our major trading partners will have none of it.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.