CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Kevin Rudd grows cooler on global warming
, February 20, 2010
As recently as late last year it was "the great moral issue of our time", but in 2010 the issue of global warming appears to be fading in both urgency and importance for the Rudd Government, with serious consequences in an election year.
Since the fiasco of the Copenhagen summit, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been quietly back-pedalling from his former position that Australia must take the international lead in fighting against "catastrophic" global warming.
Mr Rudd is no ideologue and, as a highly experienced diplomat, he must have come to realise that the chances of an international agreement are now close to zero, with developing nations hostile and India and China categorically refusing to bow to demands from the affluent West to curtail their plans for expanding their industrial bases.
The Prime Minister no longer has a compliant Opposition leader in the form of Malcolm Turnbull, who was his most active supporter.Outlandish scenarios
Even the media are showing distinct signs of scepticism on some of the more outlandish disaster scenarios which have been put about by United Nations' climate change scientists and by dishonest environmentalist groups.
To make matters worse, the practical and cheaper alternative measures being offered by new Opposition leader Tony Abbott have potentially far fewer drawbacks with voters than Rudd's proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS).
While Mr Rudd's policy consists of a hard-to-sell cap-and-trade scheme, which he concedes will drive up the price of electricity and, as a consequence, the cost of living over time, Mr Abbott's policy involves hand-outs to entice businesses and farmers to emit less carbon dioxide.
Mr Rudd's policy is complicated because it involves exemptions and trade-offs and reimbursements for low-income earners who will be hurt by the scheme, so Mr Abbott's is attempting to sell his alternative policy as practical and straightforward by comparison.
In reality, neither is good policy in the sense that both aim for a fairly pointless 5 per cent cut in Australia's man-made carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.
For a country as small as Australia, which produces around 1 per cent of the world's man-made carbon dioxide emissions, this will have an almost immeasurable effect on the planet's climate.
The Opposition's policy is open to rent-seekers and business groups wanting to get some of the $3.2 billion in hand-outs, but it also has electorally attractive practical appeal with its 20 million tree-plantings and rebates for businesses and families to build solar panels in their homes.
Mr Abbott's plan also goes some way to negating Government claims that Opposition MPs seeking to stymie its plan are simply climate change "deniers".
On the other hand, Labor's policy is a potential vote-loser because it is much more difficult to explain and vulnerable to a scare campaign depicting it as a "big new tax on everything".
The first polls for 2010 suggest that voters are not happy about an ETS and that the Coalition is competitive for the first time in two years.
It is still early days in the parliamentary year, but the PM may yet pull back from his persistent threat to hold a double dissolution election on the issue.
Rather than continuing to "show leadership" and flay the Opposition for being indifferent to the climate change issue, Mr Rudd is now desperately looking around for an alternative issue on which to fight the election.
Economic management and health appear to be the alternatives.
However, it is not only the politics of global warming but the "science" which has shifted dramatically.
Recent months have also seen mounting concern (even among environmentalist groups) about some of the dodgy "science" put out by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This is likely to build over the coming year as more and more journalists and formerly quiescent scientists take a harder look at the IPCC reports and the data on which they are based.
Mainstream media outlets, which once reported every exaggerated claim on global warming as fact, are beginning to question the bona fides of the IPCC authors, some of whom have been exposed for manipulating statistics, hiding data, and failing to check sources which later turned out to be dubious.
In the most embarrassing case, the IPCC went ahead with claims that the Himalayan glaciers would melt completely by 2035, even after being told that this was not true. In fact, it turned out that while some were melting, others were growing and some were static — suggesting no uniform pattern of warming.Under a cloud
Finally, the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, is under a cloud for using his position to profit from the global warming scare and getting commission payments from multi-national energy producers.
The coming election is shaping up as a repeat of 1998, when John Howard pledged to bring in a tax he had previously said he would "never, never" introduce.
Instead of a GST, the Opposition now has an ETS to fight.
No new tax is popular, even one which purportedly helps heal the planet of dangerous carbon dioxide emissions.
Kevin Rudd had hoped to significantly increase his margin in his second term at the expense of a divided Opposition, whose policies differed little from the Government's.
Instead, he is now grappling with how to deal with a rejuvenated Opposition armed with a potent issue on which to fight an election.