Carbon price does not equal climate action

March 4, 2011

The statement below was released by the Socialist Alliance on March 6.

* * *

The carbon price framework recently agreed to by the ALP and the Greens is a step in the wrong direction.

This is not because, as the Coalition says, the economy — read the profits of big business — cannot afford to cut emissions. It’s because the framework will be counterproductive to real action on climate change.

The highest prices now being discussed will simply stimulate a mass rollout of gas, extending Australia's commitment to fossil fuels at the expense of renewable energy.

This is because a carbon price is a poor way to promote renewables.

As it stands, the carbon price deal will simply act as a support mechanism for the gas industry and the profits of the oil, mining, and coal giants who own it.

The framework does not guarantee any phase out of dirty industries, nor investment in alternative industries or the jobs that go along with them.

Australia urgently needs a radical shift to a zero emissions economy. In isolation, no carbon tax can ensure this. At best, a carbon tax can be a secondary or additional aspect of the government’s climate policy.

Socialist Alliance stands for large-scale public investment in a publicly-owned and run renewable energy sector, a rollout of public transport, a shift to sustainable farming and other carbon abatement programs, as well as government regulation to phase out dirty industries.

We stand for making the big corporate polluters and profit-makers pay. That means an end to all subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

And while taxation is one measure that could be used on this front, in isolation it could be disastrous.

If polluters are allowed to pass the cost of a carbon price on to households, or use it as an excuse to lay off workers or go offshore, this would also be disastrous.

Public investment in zero emissions alternatives is essential and strong regulation is needed. For example, it is not acceptable that people be forced out of their cars due to price increases at the pump. Alternatives are needed, and in this case, that means investment in public transport.

Polluters that refuse to cut emissions, evade regulations or try to pass the costs of carbon-abatement onto consumers should be taken into public hands to allow the needed transition to be carried out in an effective and socially just way.

The ALP/Greens agreement makes the market the primary driver of Australia’s response to the climate emergency.

But a tax cannot substitute for government regulation or direct public investment in carbon abatement projects.

Indeed, while not reflected in the agreement, the Greens’ policy is to support a carbon price in tandem with the wind-back of fossil fuel subsidies and industry policies for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The details of the deal are yet to be worked out, but the scheme will be hard-wired to move to a flexible price under an emissions trading scheme.

This puts Australia’s climate policy in the hands of international markets and stands in contradiction to the certainty with which we need to act.

Furthermore, the ALP is committed to giving out huge subsidies to the big polluters, and the Greens is committed to compensation to trade-exposed industries — countering any financial incentive to cut pollution fast under a carbon tax.

Compared with the $11 billion a year state and federal governments give to the fossil fuel industry in subsidies, it is clear that this carbon price deal is greenwash.

The government needs to stop fiddling with the market to cut carbon emissions and instead set emissions cuts targets based on the science.

It must put carbon abatement projects and regulation in place to meet these targets, while guaranteeing a just transition for workers into new jobs.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.