Don’t believe the hype. The carbon price deal announced by Labor and the Greens on February 24 is not a breakthrough and does not set Australia on a path to a zero-carbon future.
Rather, it entrenches a framework that puts market forces at the heart of Australia’s response to the climate emergency. It’s a step in the wrong direction.
The full details of the deal — including the price and compensation measures — are yet to be finalised. But the agreement made clear the scheme will begin by mid-2012 and become a fully-fledged emissions trading scheme three-to-five years later.
This is bad news. Emissions trading schemes have failed in the European Union and elsewhere.
Such schemes have made bankers, and outright fraudsters, a lot of money. But they have not made a dent in carbon pollution.
No target to cut Australia’s emissions is included in the deal, the Sydney Morning Herald said on February 24, only a promise to set a target sometime between 2014 and 2016. That is after the next federal election.
Yet the warnings from climate scientists about the need for urgent action to cut emissions make this delay unjustifiable.
As she announced the deal, Prime Minster Julia Gillard left no room for doubt that rapid emissions cuts were not on her agenda. “I do not believe that Australia needs to lead the world on climate change,” she said. “But I also don't believe that we can afford to be left behind.”
Greens senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne struck a very different note. Brown said: “This agreement is the Greens in action, delivering certainty to the Australian economy, community, investors and the environment after productive negotiations with the government.”
Milne said the carbon price deal was “a big step forward” that meant “the transformation of our economy towards a zero emissions future can begin”.
Since their record election results in August, the Greens have been keen to show that they can deliver results in parliament.
But in this case, that desire has led them to make a promise they cannot keep.
A high carbon price is not on the agenda. But a low price will simply make dirty natural gas cheaper at the expense of renewable energy.
The climate action movement is not yet powerful enough to deliver the policies we really need. Better to state this truth openly, and focus on building the movement’s strength, than to indulge in false hopes.
The fossil fuel lobby, the Liberal Party and right-wing media will attack the deal mercilessly — as they would anything that smells the slightest bit like climate action.
But this is not a good reason to defend a compromise agreement that can only grease the wheels of business-as-usual.
No other climate policy can substitute for public investment to replace dirty industries with clean ones. The struggle to make this happen is still the main game.