PromiseWatch 2013: Climate change

3. Climate change and carbon pricing…

Published in partnership with Crikey, the PromiseWatch 2013 series captures snapshots of the major parties’ platforms in major policy areas

PromiseWatch 2013: Climate change banner

Nearly six years ago, in the heady days of August 2007, former prime minister Kevin Rudd famously called climate change “the great moral challenge of our generation”. That was arguably the high-water mark for political promises on climate change. As the 2010 election drew closer, Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, informed by the Garnaut Review, was shelved under unrelenting cabinet pressure from Treasurer Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard.

Then, in the aftermath of Gillard’s narrow election win and with minority Greens demanding a chop out, the PM rolled back her “no carbon tax” pledge, deciding instead to introduce a fixed carbon price of $23 a tonne — a move that looks likely to be dumped after a Coalition victory in September.

The transitional tax levied on the 294 major polluters began on July 1 last year. According to the Clean Energy Regulator — the bureaucracy created to oversee the implementation of the eventual emissions trading scheme — this policy will ultimately effect 60% of the country’s carbon emissions and will include emissions resulting from “electricity generation, stationary energy, landfills, wastewater, industrial processes and fugitive emissions”. It’s difficult to tell at this early stage how successful the tax has been in reducing emissions — emissions are certainly not increasing, but falling demand for electricity (largely unrelated to the carbon price) is a key part of that.

The scientific consensus on carbon is having to kick hard against harsh economic realities. The European carbon market — which under the Australian government’s plan will link to the floating carbon price from 2015 — is in freefall, and German power prices are back, unbelievably, at 2007 levels. US President Barack Obama’s promise to focus on carbon has faded in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, although he has made renewed promises since winning a second term.

But the existential threat to civilisation remains severe. In order to combat this threat, both the government and opposition have committed Australia to reducing emissions by at least 5% of the year 2000’s levels by 2020, with Labor promising a cut of 80% on 2000’s level by 2050. The government intends to reduce each individual Australian’s carbon footprint by one-third to one-half. The carbon pricing scheme makes up only one part of this plan, but it is predicted to reduce carbon emissions by 159 million tonnes per year by 2020, which is roughly equivalent to removing 45 million cars from the roads.

So what are the differences between the parties on climate change? CPD’s John Wiseman has summarised the differences in this handy table…