The cost of inaction on carbon emissions

by David Leigh


With so much deliberately generated uncertainty on climate change and the extenuation of same, it is little wonder that the polls show poor support for the Multi Party Committee on Climate Change (MPCCC) decision to introduce a carbon tax. The Liberal National Coalition decided not to participate and yet its’ leader, Tony Abbott has made it his prime objective to destroy the work of the MPCCC. There have been bold statements about Australia’s premature action. According to Mr Abbott, nobody else is doing anything to mitigate climate change.

One of the countries touted by the Opposition as inactive is the U.K. and yet Britain has just presented its 4th Carbon Budget. The follow up to that is the white paper “Planning Our Electric Future”.

Published in tandem with the “U.K. Renewable Energy Roadmap” it lays down a clear path to an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the same target set out by the MPCCC.

The U.K. white papers states: “In the Fourth Carbon Budget, the Government set a legally-binding goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the period of 2023 to 2027 of 1950 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – a 50 per cent reduction on 1990 levels”.

This is hardly a country doing nothing and with a far greater dependence on electricity than Australia, it sets the scene for bold and challenging times ahead.

The Abbott line about the price going up and up is also totally incorrect, as other market indicators will show. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS) has been in place for some time and the carbon price is now floating on an open and vibrant market. At the time of writing it was sitting at 19 Euros, the price actually fell that week from 23 Euros as a normal fluctuation in the market.

The Australian model has the price fixed at $23 for the first 3 years and then floated from thereon. Obviously, it will be subjected to the same market forces, especially when linked to the rest of the world and not keep rising as stated. It is this sort of scaremongering that causes uncertainty, especially to the average person in the street.

The U.K. is so far ahead on alternative energy because instead of arguing against the science and the price of action, business leaders considered the cost of doing nothing, not just to the environment but also to business. Reading through the U.K. Renewable Energy Roadmap there are many examples of innovative projects already in existence and as a direct result of a carbon tax.

Offshore and onshore wind farms are already in place and contributing heavily to the mix of power generation in the U.K. Wave power generators are also in operation and a whole industry for construction and export has evolved under the scheme, creating many new and sustainable jobs.

One project, which is quite imaginative, is a plant in Dorset, which takes liquid waste from a dairy and uses it to generate gas. The Anaerobic Digestion Plant uses the breaking down of this waste, by bacteria, to generate a biogas. This is burnt and in turn produces electrical power and heat. The £2.3 million plant makes enough electricity to power all the dairy and food processing operations and feed a surplus back into the grid. The heat generated also replaces that normally fired by oil, which is part of the company’s manufacturing process. The project has reduced the company’s carbon footprint by 60 per cent.

Australia needs to get on with the job of bilaterally tackling climate change and leave the politics out of the discussions. There were similar scaremongering tactics employed by opposition on the introduction of the GST. Ironically, it was the then Labor opposition and the unions, driving the scaremongering with “Jobs not GST”.

It was Kim Beazley (13 May 1999) who said: “This - as much as the unfairness of the GST - is what Labor, and Australia, have at stake in this tax debate.This is why we are keeping our election promise to oppose the GST.”

Unfortunately, it is inherent in our political system to have government and opposition, to govern and to oppose. Until we have a policy-based, multi-party system of politics in Australia we are condemned to scaremongering, whoever is in opposition and that is unproductive.

The reality is that other countries are acting on carbon and have done so for some time and contrary to the sky falling in the system appears to be working well.

  • The Scottish Government has committed to a target of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020.
  • Northern Ireland is committed to 40 per cent renewable by 2020.
  • The Welsh Government has indicated that it has the potential to produce twice the amount of electricity it currently uses from renewable sources by 2025, and deliver 4 GW of this from marine energy.

These are areas of the U.K. that traditionally suffered high unemployment and relied heavily on extractive industries. They are also regions not blessed with long days of strong sunshine like Australia.

Despite our continent being blessed with abundant solar, geothermal, wave and wind power opportunities, we are the highest per capita polluters on the planet:

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001): “Over 90 per cent of total energy consumed in Australia is based on an energy source derived from fossil fuels”.

Moreover, Australia is the largest exporter of coal on Earth. More than half the world’s metallurgical(coking) coal is mined in and exported from Australia. That would make Australia responsible directly and indirectly for a much larger percentage of global emissions than any other country.

According to Peter Daniels, Senior Lecturer at the Griffith School of Environment at the Griffith University, clinging to carbon is bad for Australia’s economic future for five reasons:

  • Carbon tariffs and peak oil will push up prices and decrease export competitiveness.
  • Demand will reduce for Australia’s existing exports as the world’s economies become less dependent upon fossil carbon energy.
  • There will be poor gains in energy efficiency throughout the entire economy (due to lack of incentives).
  • The economy will become increasingly inflexible and there will be more barriers to competitive change as we continue to invest in industry, urban and social infrastructure based on fossil carbon energy.
  • Our fossil carbon dependence will reduce confidence and international capital flows into the Australian economy.

The time has come surely, to stop bickering and opposing, whichever side of politics one represents and get on with the task of fixing the mess Australia has created before the mess turns Australia into a no go zone in the global economy.

David Leigh is a writer and filmmaker. He trained at Edith Cowan University, Perth WA gaining a BA in writing and a Masters in Professional Communications. He subsequently trained at the WA Screen Academy.

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