As the government tries to pass its controversial carbon trading legislation, the latest polling indicates widespread public support for it. A recent Nielsen poll found 65% support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), while just 25% oppose it.
Of the 25% opposition, half (or 12.5% of the total) are opposed because they don't believe in climate change, or think the economy is more important. Just over 8% of the total think Australia should wait for other countries. Less than 5% of the total respondents oppose the bill because it does not go far enough.
However, this poll does not provide the full picture.
An Essential Research poll released on June 22 asked respondents to choose sides on the division in the environment movement over the CPRS.
The question asked: "Groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, World Wildlife Fund and the Climate Institute are supporting the government's plan for an Emissions Trading Scheme, while other groups like Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth want the government to adopt a more ambitious, tougher scheme. Which would you support?" While 47% were undecided, 29% supported "a tougher scheme", and 24% supported the government's plan.
On the positive side, the 65% who support the CPRS are doing so because they do want some action on climate change. A comparison of the two polls indicates the 65% support for the CPRS in the Nielsen poll is not an unquestioning support.
The Greens remain adamantly opposed to the CPRS. At the suggestion that many people may support the CPRS because they think it "better than nothing", Greens Senator Christine Milne told Green Left Weekly: "It's a great irony for a government elected on the promise of climate action that the best they themselves can say about their policy is that it's better than nothing.
"But it's an even bigger irony that it's not true. The CPRS is worse than useless. It's a step backwards, holding back the kind of action we need in order to deliver a safe climate to the next generation.
"We're confident that a large number of people support [the Greens'] view that the CPRS is too flawed to pass, and we will keep campaigning and presenting our zero-emissions, safe-climate vision at the same time as working to convince the government to make their legislation environmentally effective and economically efficient."
Barring any new amendments from the Rudd government, the CPRS is still unlikely to pass the Senate. The bill will need support from the Liberals, or from the Greens, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Family First Senator Steve Fielding to become law. Fielding has recently declared himself a climate change denier, so his support is highly unlikely.
The Australia Institute's Richard Denniss told Lateline on July 1 that the CPRS would add billions of dollars to the electricity bills of state-run schools, hospitals and other bodies.
"It's inconceivable that anyone could think that the big polluters are more deserving of assistance and compensation than the state governments that provide essential services like health and education", he said.
Milne told GLW: "The sensible approach would be to invest revenue from carbon pricing in building the zero emissions infrastructure we'll need — renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grids, public transport. It is simple common sense, backed up by economists, that sending the billions of dollars straight back into the pockets of polluters will undermine the scheme."
The US carbon-trading bill (known as the Waxman-Markey bill) passed the lower house last week (see article page 20) and has been held up for comparison with the CPRS.
Greens Senator Bob Brown told Lateline the US bill was "not big enough to meet the global emergency of climate change … the scientists tell us we must be aiming at 25 minimum to 40% reduction. However, [the US bill] is a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 over 2000 levels. Our government's looking at 5%."
Meanwhile, on June 11, seven European climate scientists, including five from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research, published a paper on the Nature Reports website entitled Halfway to Copenhagen, no way to 2 °C. The report states: "To constrain global warming to within 2 °C, developed countries would need to cut their emissions to 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and to 50–80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, according to the best available scientific analyses."
Rudd's carbon trading scheme will mean the climate will overshoot 2°C of warming by a long way. And, as climate writer David Spratt wrote on his Climate Code Red blog: "2˚C is far, far too high, given the now clear evidence that at less than 1˚C of warming we are already on the precipice of climate catastrophe, from the Arctic to the Great Barrier Reef, from the Himalayas to Siberia."