Could the government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) get any worse? The unfortunate answer is yes. It can, it has already and it's likely to get worse still before parliament ends for the year.
Radical action is needed to avert an irreversible climate change disaster. Australia has some of the best conditions in the world for wind and solar power. An emergency program to phase out fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy in a decade is needed.
Given the crisis, it's hard to imagine a more useless response than an emissions trading scheme.
Carbon trading schemes now exist in 35 countries worldwide. Yet nowhere have they successfully driven down carbon emissions.
In their various forms, however, all have proved to be highly lucrative for a new breed of carbon speculators, who can profit from trading in a new commodity — our air.
Friends of the Earth said the European Union's emissions trading scheme will be worth about US$3.1 trillion by 2020.
Such cap-and-trade schemes face increasing criticism as failures mount, but profits — and emissions — rise.
In July, the billionaire financier George Soros told a London School of Economics conference that carbon trading was the wrong response to climate change. "The system can be gamed; that's why financial types like me like it — because there are financial opportunities."
Australian climate activists and most environment groups have condemned the proposed CPRS as a woefully inadequate response to the global warming crisis. Its weak targets ignore the scientific evidence that rapid emission cuts are needed.
The federal climate change department's own figures suggest that the scheme won't lead to a significant drop in Australia's emissions for at least 20 years. Climate scientists say that's far too late to prevent runaway climate change.
The low targets are a ghastly joke in the face of a looming climate disaster. But even worse, they are not real targets at all.
The CPRS will allow business to meet the emissions cuts targets through buying carbon offsets from overseas — that is, they can pay projects in other countries to make 100% of the cuts on their behalf.
The scheme gives A$16.4 billion taxpayers' money as "compensation" to polluting industries, diverting resources away from direct investment in solar thermal, and wind power, energy efficiency measures and public transport.
The proposed payouts have grown so large the federal treasury was forced to revise its revenue projections for the CPRS on November 2, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said. Treasury now expects it will be $2.5 billion in arrears by 2019-20.
Critics also point out the scheme's subsidies will keep polluting industries in business, rather than phase them out.
In its first year, the CPRS carbon price will be capped at $10 a tonne — a rate so low it's certain to price renewable energy alternatives out of the market.
So much for the supposed ecological benefits of a "free market" in pollution.
The only thing truly "free" in this scheme is the 95% of permits the government will hand to the dirtiest and richest companies at no charge.
The climate depravity of the two big parties is hard to overstate. Negotiations between the ALP and Coalition to get the scheme passed by the Senate are certain to add even more loopholes for the big polluters.
The ALP government has ruled out any negotiations with the Greens, who want far stiffer cuts in emissions.
Emissions from agriculture are the latest casualty of the political horse-trading. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on November 15 agriculture would be permanently excluded from the CPRS. It was a key demand of the climate denier-riddled opposition.
After stationary energy, agriculture is the next biggest contributor to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan to cut emissions in this crucial area is now official: we have no plan. But in truth, this is only a marginal change from the Rudd government's climate policy for other sectors. There we have a plan that is sure to fail.
Other Coalition amendment proposals include: triple compensation payments to electricity producers; lock in the weak targets for 10 years instead of five; and exempt mining companies from having to worry about the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from coalmines.
At least some of these proposals will become part of the final legislation if it is to pass into law.
A question arises as to whether the big environmental NGOs, who were suckered into backing the CPRS in May, will now finally distance themselves from the polluter-friendly scheme.
The ACF has said many times it would end its support of the CPRS if it was "substantially weakened". Yet the exclusion of agriculture from the CPRS — amounting to about 16% of Australia's emissions — still hasn't led to a policy change.
As the circus surrounding the CPRS draws to its miserable finale, new evidence of the looming climate catastrophe has emerged. It is almost as if the warnings from climate scientists become more dire in inverse proportion to the worsening of Australia's climate change policy.
On November 20, parts of New South Wales were placed on "catastrophic fire danger" alerts. South-eastern Australia braced for more days of searing heat and fierce winds.
Meanwhile, a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience by a group of climate scientists from the Global Carbon Project said average temperatures are highly likely to rise by 6°C by the end of the century.
The scientists assessed that such a rise was probable given current emissions. The study said world emissions rose 28% between 2000 and 2008. In the 18 years from 1990, the rise was 41%.
They also confirmed the rate of emissions is now higher than ever — at a time it should be coming down fast. In the 1990s, emissions rose by about 1% a year. Since the turn of the century, the yearly rise has been about 3%.
The November 18 London Independent pointed out that a 6°C rise "would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation".
Lead author of the study, Professor Corinne Le Quere, told the Independent December's Copenhagen climate talks had to make a strong commitment to cut emissions.
"If the agreement is too weak, or the commitments not respected, it is not 2.5°C or 3°C we will get: it's 5°C or 6°C — that is the path we're on", she said.
But any hopes that the Copenhagen conference will deliver the agreement the planet so desperately needs are misplaced.
US President Barack Obama announced on November 14 that no legally binding agreement would be made — exactly what the rich countries, including Australia, have pushed for over the past few months, against the wishes of the poor nations. The setting of binding targets will be delayed for at least a year.
In a display of outrageous hypocrisy, Rudd called on world leaders to show greater "political courage" at Copenhagen, said ABC Online on November 18.
Real political courage is exactly what is required. But it won't be found in the pro-corporate political parties or the international gatherings of the so-called world leaders, who will lead us only to oblivion.
The political courage we need is the courage of the street, of the activists, of the people. The courage to fight for the measures we need and not give up. The courage to take decision-making power out of the hands of the elites who have so grievously abused it.
The courage to tell the truth about climate change. The courage to demand what science and justice dictate, not what is desperately inadequate but "politically acceptable".
The courage to keep building a movement that can make governments fear the people, and fear the consequences of just pretending to act on climate change any longer.
That kind of political courage is all that stands between a safe climate future and climate chaos.