A forum held by the University of Sydney environment collective and the Political Economy Students' Society attracted 70 people on March 31.
The meeting discussed whether the federal government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) can significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.
Frank Stilwell, political economy professor, explained that the CPRS was a flawed policy. "The question of whether or not [the CRPS] is better than nothing is still open", he said.
Stilwell argued that the economic crisis presents "a golden opportunity to restructure our economy to meet more sustainable outcomes". The "push for green jobs seems to me to be absolutely essential now", he said.
He stated his preference for a carbon tax as an alternative to an emissions trading scheme but concluded: "Better than any pricing mechanisms is planning a transition towards sustainability and green jobs."
NSW Greens parliamentarian, John Kaye, also spoke. The debate on the CPRS is crucial, he said, because "if we get it wrong now we will go through too many [climate] tipping points that means there will be no way back".
He listed a number of major problems with the CPRS including the tiny 5% target for emissions reduction by 2020, that household emission cuts simply free up more carbon permits for the big polluters and the billions of dollars the scheme awards to Australia's biggest polluters.
Kaye pointed out that the "compensation" paid to the highly energy-intensive aluminium industry under the CPRS amounts to about $200,000 per worker. This is more than enough to retrain every aluminium industry employee for work in new green industries, while keeping them on full pay, he said.
Kaye argued that putting a price on carbon can play some role in reducing emissions but denied it can play the major role.
Wenny Theresia from the Nature Conservation Council of NSW told the forum that more than 30 actions were held around Australia on March 27 calling on the government to "switch off the CPRS, switch on renewables".
Theresia explained that "preventing the CPRS from becoming law" was one of the key campaign objectives decided upon at Australia's Climate Summit, held in Canberra from January 31 to February 3.
The CPRS will delay the urgent structural changes needed to secure a carbon-neutral economy. "We should be calling the CRPS what it is — really bad policy", Theresia said.
Theresia concluded by raising the question of whether the climate movement should argue for the CPRS to be amended or rejected in the Senate. "Most community groups are judging [the CPRS] on the basis of what we really need. The CPRS should be rejected if it cannot meet the climate emergency", she said.