The Environmental Wilderness

It is hard to remember, although we should, that just over two years ago, Australia had held out for the better part of a decade being one of only two countries not to sign to Kyoto protocol. That was after the negotiators bent over backwards to cut a deal in our favour (allowing higher emissions than 1990). And for that same time the US, who similarly held out, could point to us as an partner on the outside. That shocked my 7 year old daughter more than anything at the time. That ended two years ago.

I’ve been distrustful of spurious arguments to pass the ETS legislation quickly. With the US likely to be cooperative, our role one way or the other in how we handle international negotiations is less important. But we could do one thing: we could become an example that it is possible — despite the diabolical nature of the problem — to generate the political coalition and negotiate the special interests to pass a widespread emission trading regime and begin the work of adjusting to carbon pricing. This isn’t a move that is likely going to be decisive in saving the Great Barrier Reef but given the inevitability of all this, it is a move that moves us from a position of laggards to leaders and for little cost. All our commitments are postponed but we can bring to the table political will.

That is why the beginning of next week is critical. The Government have done their part by providing an ETS that moves to the right. I hate the compensation but if we get a carbon price and some institutions out of it, I’m happy to live with it. The issue now is whether the Coalition looks at themselves over the weekend and says “no we want to Australia to remain the hold-out and in the international wilderness” or, as their leader has said, “such attitudes cannot stand and we need to be part of the global community.” And if you are thinking of the former, you had better think quickly about how you explain it to a young child.

4 thoughts on “The Environmental Wilderness”

  1. The bi-election next week in Peter Costello’s seat of Higgins next week, comes at an interesting time. The Libs (Kelly O’Dwyer) are campaigning on ‘low debt economy’ (shades of but a world away from a low carbon economy, and the Greens (Dr Clive Hamilton, economist), on leading the world to a zero emissions economy. If Prahran market is anything to go by, then Labor are not contesting the seat. Should be an interesting week in the Libs camp.
    As for the ETS, the early legislation is symbolic. And symbols have value. Australia is a Top 20 emitter, though only 1.5% of total, and counting the EU as a single block, then Australia is Top 10. Being smaller, we can move faster sometimes, forge coalitions, and dance when the bigger elephants are too mired in politics and interest groups to move anything but slowly. Seems like the pain for the Liberals, and the businesses of their supporters, is worth their making a big effort to stop, or at least delay the ETS. Wonder if it is an international concerted effort, and who would coordinate such an effort, to delay the ETS, like Canada, and NZ. Interesting times….


  2. I might be wrong, but you seem to be suggesting that there is a value in leadership and in setting an example.  What practical benefits do you expect they would bring?  Do you have any examples of international agreements that were demonstrably led by the early choices of middle to low ranking countries?  I’m not doubting that there may be some.  Whale hunting perhaps.  I think stating them might enhance your argument.


  3. John: The NPT.  The superpowers were of course in favour, but since they got a special deal out of it, it wasn’t really their leadership that convinced the rest of the world to get on board.


  4. The question of value is an interesting one.  I think we need a system that prices carbon as a pollutant, but whether it is a direct carbon tax or an ETS, I personally don’t care. (Prices should rise in either case.)

    The next point is on the issue of value is: I think that passing an ETS that will NOT deliver effective carbon reduction is worse than NO deal. Are there any economic models out there that can simulate the ETS with respect to probabilities around outcomes?

    The countries that seemed to do best in actual carbon reduction to date made decisions that went far beyond Kyoto.


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