Saturday, February 21, 2009

Emissions plan 'an incentive to pollute'

IT IS perhaps the least understood part of carbon trading - that action by households or communities to tackle climate change will not lower Australia's total greenhouse footprint.

Academics and environmentalists this week expressed alarm that under the Government's proposed scheme any voluntary cuts would leave heavy-polluting industries with less to do for the nation to meet its greenhouse target. They say the scheme must be redesigned so the biggest emitters are not let off the hook, and others - individuals, green businesses and local and state governments - do not face a perverse incentive to stop cutting emissions.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham called on the Government to find ways to measure voluntary emissions cuts and reduce the greenhouse budget available to big polluters accordingly.

"I don't think people are aware of this, but I think the Government is assuming that the community will continue to do its bit and it won't mind giving the polluters a free ride," he said. "At the moment there is a terrible incentive there to not buy green power and not ride your bike to work, but to actually pollute more - to use more energy or drive your Hummer to work to drive carbon prices up and force polluters to change their behaviour."

Alan Pears, an RMIT adjunct professor and policy adviser to the Voluntary Carbon Markets Association, said under the scheme anyone wanting to back renewable energy projects was better off investing overseas.

"Isn't our objective to mobilise the community and grow the industries that underpin a low-carbon future? And yet this is undermining the community and driving low-carbon industries offshore," he said.

Richard Denniss, executive director of left-leaning think tank the Australia Institute, accused the Government of falsely suggesting individuals could make a difference. He pointed to the Department of Climate Change website, which says: "By doing things smarter and more efficiently within our own homes we can all help to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions."

Dr Denniss said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may have misled Parliament earlier this month by claiming the Government's plan to insulate household roofs could be equivalent to taking a million cars off the road. "He either doesn't understand the system or he is misleading the population," he said.

The attack comes after 10 days of confusion over whether the Government was shifting its climate change policy. Treasurer Wayne Swan announced a surprise lower house committee inquiry into the scheme, but cancelled it when it was interpreted as a sign of cold feet.

Both the Opposition and the Greens have criticised the scheme's design.

A growing number of environmental groups are calling on the Senate to block the scheme in its current form. While some cite failure to directly count voluntary cuts, more oppose what they say are inadequate greenhouse targets - 5 to 15 per cent by 2020 - and $9 billion in compensation for big emitters over the first three years.

Not all environmentalists agree that the lack of recognition of individual action is a problem. Privately, some say it is an intrinsic part of any market-based scheme designed to cut emissions at least cost to the entire community.

A spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the Government would help households do their bit through an energy efficiency package that would lower electricity bills and help achieve national greenhouse targets.

AUSTRALIA'S recycling effort is on the brink of a crisis as ripples from the world financial crash start lapping against kerbside rubbish collection around the country.

Prices for used plastic, aluminium cans, cardboard, paper and many scrap metals have plummeted by up to three-quarters since October, meaning that in some regions it is now cheaper to send sorted rubbish straight to landfill rather than to recycling stations, industry sources have told The Age.


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