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Needed and inevitable – a price on carbon


|Sourced From Onlineopinion |

Successive Prime Ministers have described the need to reduce CO2 emissions as one of the most important and pressing issues of our time. Why then has the Australian government so trenchantly resisted calls for it to take a global leadership role in efforts to curb emissions? Is it because this leadership role is regarded as properly belonging to the United Nations? Perhaps the role is seen as unattainable without a record of action and credibility?

Australia has unwisely pursued policies which have increased its dependency on public funding derived from the production and use of coal. This may explain why it continues to approve expansion of the coal mining industry and why it has persisted in subsidising coal – the major source of CO2 emissions – and failed to meet its very modest Kyoto Protocol reduction targets.

When setting a 2020 reduction target Australia ignored the advice of scientists and economists alike, offering no more than a tokenistic cut of 5 per cent below 2000 rather than 1990 emissions levels. It gave a whole new meaning to the Roman dictum festino lente (hasten slowly), by moving with such lethargy that it was perceived to be doing nothing to curb emissions, while working with alacrity and vigour to increase the production and sale of coal – and CO2.

Why pay subsidies to an industry which is highly profitable? Why promote expansion of the largest source of CO2 emissions while declaring determination to reduce those emissions? Why increase dependency on production and use of coal knowing that, sooner rather than later, the opposite action must be taken?

The states, New South Wales and Queensland in particular, stripped their publicly owned companies, rather than allowing them to prudently make adequate provision for reticulation expansion and upgrade. That work must now be paid for from increased electricity charges: more than a 40 per cent increase in Qld. If nothing else, these increases demonstrate that the business sector is able to handle them without ill effect, even when accompanied by an appreciating $A.

Even more surprising is that these policies have been supported and implemented knowing that sooner rather than later, it would be necessary to:

* put a price on carbon at an early date;
* increase that price rapidly to make new technology affordable;
* send an effective price signal which would reduce emissions;
* generate 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020;
* meet a realistic 25 per cent CO2 reduction target by 2020;
* contribute effective action preventing a 2C increase by 2100; and so
* avoid international penalties on countries failing to reduce CO2.

Such is the

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