- Revised emission trading scheme delights business
A LITTLE sleight of hand is at work here.
Kevin Rudd says he now has an ambitious greenhouse target on the table for 2020. And he does: cutting emissions to 25 per cent below 2000 levels will require hard work across the economy.
But we know the Government also thinks this almost certainly won't happen. Why? Because Penny Wong told us so in December.
Ignore yesterday's spin about recent progress in international climate talks. The Government believes that a new deal won't meet the strict conditions it has put in place for Australia to sign up for a 25 per cent cut.
If it is right — and there are plenty familiar with the climate talks who believe it is — Australia's ultimate target will be in the range it was before yesterday: between 5 and 15 per cent. No change, then.
There is also more than a hint of greenwash in the Government's attempt to win back support from households worried that personal cuts in emissions won't count.
For example, putting up rooftop solar panels will still make no difference to Australia's total emissions. To cut the number of permits available to industry you will have to visit a government website, plug in your credit card number and pay from your own pocket to retire carbon permits.
Meanwhile, the Government has thrown more compensation at big-polluting industry: more free carbon permits for the first five years, a low fixed permit price of $10 for the first year, and a 12-month delay to the entire scheme.
Putting aside that it breaks an election promise, the delayed start is pragmatic given the recession. But the extra compensation will further reduce the incentive for greenhouse-intensive industries, such as aluminium and steel, to change their practice.
So why are some environment groups in support?
The theoretical possibility of a 25 per cent cut will play well internationally. And the international game is, ultimately, the only one that counts.
The mantra at United Nations-sponsored climate talks is that wealthy nations must make cuts at least within the 25 to 40 per cent range to get the big emerging economies to sign on to a new climate deal.
China and South Africa have both named and shamed Australia for failing to go this far, but the Rudd Government can no longer be legitimately accused of not being prepared to do its bit.
For green groups who believe that an ambitious treaty to avoid catastrophic climate change is possible this year, yesterday's commitment, whatever its flaws, helps keep the door ajar.