Climate change won't be solved with a negative attitude

by Heather Bruer

Pricing carbon in Australia will have positive ripple effects internationally and on future generations.

Young people stand to benefit the most from the government's new Clean Energy Future (CEF) plan to put a price on pollution. We can now look forward to clean energy jobs, less pollution and the possibility of a safe climate future. In the words of Tony Windsor: "It's not about us, it's not about the next election, it's about the next generation".

Young people deserve to inherit a world that is not plagued with extreme weather events, food and water shortages and fuel crises as a result of the inaction and irresponsibility of those before us. We are relying upon the decision-makers of today to act now to protect our future.

The CEF has won the support of business groups, environmental and youth organisations that failed to back Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The difference is that with the CEF, failure won't be locked in and we are looking at the real possibility of progress.

"The arrangements for adjusting targets, including through the role of the Climate Change Authority, allow appropriate flexibility in response to international developments within a stable and predictable framework" said the Government's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut.

The Climate Change Authority (CCA), based on the successful British Committee on Climate Change, will advise the Government on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the event the Government goes against their recommendations they will have to explain their actions to parliament establishing from the onset a system of accountability.

The role of the CCA will be even more critical given the newly announced 2050 emissions reduction target of 80 per cent. The CCA will have to beef up the 2020 target beyond 5 per cent to position itself on the trajectory needed to get to the 2050 target.

The plan is not perfect but it is a step in the right direction - and that is huge considering how long we have been teetering on the brink of inertia.

The renewable energy sector has also been bolstered by a $10 billion injection of new money for large-scale projects. Another independent authority will assume responsibility for dishing out the funds. This will directly support the transition to a clean energy economy and is expected to leverage billions in dormant private investment.

Importantly, the CEF plan is also distinct from the CPRS in that it will recognise voluntary action to cut emissions. Details are yet to be announced, but this is an enormously positive step towards meaningful engagement of states and the community in addressing climate change.

But the jewel in the crown of the government plan has undoubtedly been the generous compensation package for households. Over 4 million households can expect over-compensation and another 2 million will come out even. This should quell fears on rising cost of living pressures promulgated by the Opposition and sends the clear message to all Australians that this is not just another "great big new tax"; it is a scheme designed to make polluters pay for what they've been getting away with for free for decades - pumping dirty emissions into our clean skies.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has successfully worked both sides of the street in his response to the Government's plan. He pointed out that Australia's actions are rendered meaningless when compared to China and simultaneously promoted his own plan with the same 5 per cent reduction target by 2020.

Understandably, Abbott has failed to gain the support of economists for his people-pay-the-polluters Direct Action plan. In addition, according to an Essential Research poll last week, only 15 per cent of the public support the Coalition's proposal, while 60 per cent think the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to tax the big polluters, which is the Government's plan.

Mechanisms aside, Tony Abbott has attempted to paint a false reality that Australia would be out on a ledge by taking action on climate change. It flies in the face of the Productivity Commission report released last month that found that Australia is in the middle of the pack when it comes to current expenditure on efforts to reduce carbon pollution and significantly behind the UK and Germany.

In fact, pricing carbon in Australia will have positive ripple effects internationally. Collaboration through the United Nations is growing and needs countries like Australia to step up and do their fair share.

To step back and look at the bigger picture, this plan marks the beginning of a new political age characterised by planning for the future.

Climate change won't be solved with a negative, won't-do attitude. The reality is we cannot afford to put young people's future in the too hard basket.

It's high time our nation takes a step towards a clean energy economy. The Clean Energy Future plan is a solid platform to work from.

Heather Bruer is an Economics student at the University of Adelaide. She is currently the International Co-director at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

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