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MALCOLM Turnbull is moving to get on the front foot over climate change, proposing measures to cut emissions substantially more than the Government guarantees under its emissions trading scheme.
The Opposition Leader will say today a Coalition government would commit to reducing carbon dioxide emissions — now about 600 million tonnes annually — by at least 150 million tonnes a year by 2020.
But in a speech to the Young Liberals conference in Canberra, Mr Turnbull will remain coy about what the Opposition will do in the Senate this year on the emissions trading legislation.
"An ETS is no more than a piece of economic plumbing to be assessed objectively and pragmatically for its effectiveness in reducing emissions without destroying Australian jobs," Mr Turnbull will say, seeking to broaden the debate beyond the ETS. In the speech, he attacks Kevin Rudd's "rush to finalise" the ETS this year as politics trumping sound policy.
The Opposition will announce its attitude after it receives an assessment it has commissioned and sees the legislation. The Turnbull plan comprises:
* A "Green Carbon" initiative to offset greenhouse gases by capturing and storing large quantities of carbon in soil and vegetation.
* Measures to encourage improved energy efficiency in buildings, where 23 per cent of greenhouse gases originate.
* Increased investment in new technologies, especially clean coal.
The Government has promised a unilateral 5 per cent reduction of emissions on 2000 levels (when they were about 550 million tonnes annually) by 2020. This would be a reduction of about 80 million tonnes off present levels. The Government says it would go further if there is a satisfactory international agreement this year.
Mr Turnbull said the reduction in emissions in his plan "will be well beyond those proposed by the unimaginative bureaucratic white paper of Mr Rudd". His "Green Carbon" initiative includes restoring carbon to the soil through better land management, investing in revegetation and reforestation and pursuing sequestration of large quantities of carbon through "biochar" — the conversion of biomass into charcoal, which can be fixed in soil.
Mr Turnbull says a Coalition government would ensure financial support for building at least two industrial-scale carbon capture and storage power station projects.
"The Rudd Government, in its haste to implement its poorly designed ETS, has neglected all alternative paths to a low carbon economy."
The Government is waiting anxiously for the Opposition's response on the ETS, because it would prefer to deal with the Coalition than trying to juggle the Greens, who are highly critical of Labor's scheme, and the small Senate players. The global economic crisis is making it harder for the Government's scheme, increasing the pressure for substantial compromises and encouraging the Opposition at least to demand big changes and/or to delay the legislation.
Mr Turnbull gives no truck to the climate change sceptics on his side of politics, saying the question of whether or to what extent human activities are causing global warming is not a matter of ideology or belief.
"The issue is simply one of risk management," he says.