A FLAW in the design of the Federal Government's emissions trading scheme means households buying solar power systems in future might not be helping to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
A day after Environment Minister Peter Garrett flagged controversial changes in subsidies for solar energy, critics have leapt on what appears to be another Government-created disincentive for Australian households to go solar.
Under the Government climate strategy announced this week, Australia will cut emissions by 5 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020, with the option of a higher target if other countries take strong action.
But under the proposed emissions trading scheme, any carbon dioxide reductions achieved by future solar households could simply allow polluting industries to increase emissions by a corresponding amount - without jeopardising Australia's overall target.
"When emissions trading comes in, every tonne of carbon dioxide saved by households will simply free up a tonne that can be used by industry," said Richard Denniss, director of the Australia Institute.
"Installing solar hot water heaters, driving smaller cars and turning off the lights will not help the environment one bit," Mr Denniss said. "The only effective way for households to reduce Australia's carbon emissions will be to buy emissions permits and rip them up."
Another critic, Voluntary Carbon Markets Association president Ric Brazzale, said voluntary actions by companies and individuals to reduce emissions - including Green Power schemes and buying offsets for emissions on plane flights - now save 6 million tonnes of emissions a year, and involve one in six Australian families. "Inadequate targets will lead to inadequate emission reductions," Mr Brazzale said. "It is imperative to encourage voluntary action by individuals and business to achieve emissions reductions beyond relatively minor levels."
The association is urging the Government to allow carbon savings through "measurable and verified voluntary action" by households or business to extinguish emissions trading permits - as under a scheme now operating in the north-east of the United States.
Without this, it warned, emissions trading "will effectively decimate the voluntary market in Australia".
Meanwhile, it has emerged that few, if any, of Australia's 30 coal-fired power generators will be shut down by 2020 under the Rudd Government scheme.
About $3.9 billion will be handed out to the most-polluting generators in the form of free permits to emit greenhouse gases under the scheme.
But modelling in the Government's white paper on the scheme shows there will be no significant reductions in carbon pollution from coal-fired power stations by 2020 if the target of cutting emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels is stuck to.
Using three different models, the white paper finds that under the Rudd plan, "emissions do not reduce significantly below the current levels over the first decade of the scheme". The main benefit of the scheme, it says, is to stop the growth of emissions from power generators in the future, rather than cutting emissions or shutting down any of the generators.
In other developments:
- Mr Garrett has proposed that owners of office space of more than 2000 square metres commission a report giving an energy efficiency rating.
- Accountants KPMG, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Ecos Corporation called for a national energy efficiency program to refit homes of low-income earners.
With MARIAN WILKINSON