Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A tough call on climate is just what we need

Today Professor Ross Garnaut will release his final report recommending the emissions cuts Australia should adopt as its contribution to the international effort to fight dangerous climate change. The final recommendations come as 16 eminent scientists have written to the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, urging the adoption of at least a 25 per cent cut on 1990 levels by the year 2020.

The prime minister has a big decision to make. Either he will disregard the science and set a target that plays to the interests of the big emitters, or he will act with courage, heeding the evidence that a 2020 target that reduces our 1990 emissions by 25-40 per cent is urgently needed to give us a chance to avert dangerous climate change.

The Age has today published my letter urging the prime minister to make this tough and courageous call. Here is the full version:
The minimum 25 per cent cut on 1990 emission levels a group of eminent scientists has urged on the prime minister on the eve of Garnaut's final report looks tough. It should not be compared, however, to the 10 per cent cut on 2000 levels Garnaut has recommended to the stifled delight of high-emitting industries. The scientists have in fact recommended as a minimum cut the start of the 25-40 per cent range science says is needed to fight dangerous climate change.

With the ABC reporting a Lowy Institute survey showing that, since last year, fighting climate change has slipped from our first to fifth most important foreign policy goal, it appears we are being persuaded the Rudd Government is doing something on climate. Unfortunately, the scale of our response will literally be a matter of degrees. If adopted, Garnaut's recommendation will see warming of at least three degrees, by which point dangerous climate change will be well and truly, and perhaps irreversibly, in play.

If Australians have been distracted by the global financial crisis and think that's where our focus needs to lie, they should think again. Climate impacts - both economic and environmental - will amplify and stand to dwarf the impacts of a greedy Wall Street. So I say to the prime minister that he needs to get tougher on climate, but enough to stop the climate getting tough on us.
The same Lowy Institute survey that showed a slip in our ranking of the foreign policy goal of fighting climate change also found that 60 per cent of respondents nevertheless agreed with the statement that:
Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.
This is what the prime minister should bear in mind: that a clear majority support strong action on climate change even if it involves significant costs. However, as Professor Garnaut has himself said, we must compare the cost of action - in both environmental and economic terms - with the cost of doing too little.

Quick, strong action is our best chance, and the position we take to international climate negotiations - one of leadership and courage, or of defeatism and climate inaction - is prime minister Rudd's decision to make.

The Larvatus Prodeo blog is running an open thread on the outcomes of the final Garnaut report.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ferguson's boiler-plate response offers no answers on climate change

Well, back on 19 September one of Martin Ferguson's media minders said he'd respond to my email the day before challenging the federal energy and resources minister to hold a public meeting. This to explain a proposal said to be circulating from his office/department advocating a softer emissions trading scheme to industry.

His reply, dated 26 September but received today, is nothing short of an embarrassment.

About 90 per cent of it is a limp recital of generalities about the Rudd Government's position on climate change, along with this gem of irrelevance:

Detailed fact sheets about all of these measures, as well as copies of the Green Paper and further information about how to make a submission, can be found at www.climatechange.gov.au
Small problem there, Martin. Submissions closed on 10 September (mine should be online shortly). That's the problem with unresponsive, boiler-plate text.

The last couple of paragraphs may actually have had some input from Ferguson. He refers me to Kim Carr's return to order in the Senate on 15 September for the supposed facts about the soft ETS proposal (which his media minder claimed did not exist). I had, of course, already provided links to that statement and other relevant sections of the Senate transcript in my 19 September post, thanks to openaustralia.org.

Regarding the Wilkins Review on climate policy suppressed by the Rudd Government, Ferguson's letter instructs me to write to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner. So, after his media minder told me on 19 September that the Wilkins Review was 'one of Penny's', it has now become 'one of Lindsay's'.

You see how the silos work? Quarantine the different facets of climate and environmental policy so it's harder for citizens to make connections between them. A tokenistic ten per cent cut on 2000 emissions on the one hand, the greedy pursuit of the Sunrise oil and gas fields (disputed by East Timor) on the other. Then we have the secret Wilkins Review on climate policy held at arm's length from a claim to open consultation on the Green Paper.

And what of the public meeting? Nothing. In short, no answers and no accountability to his electorate for the views Ferguson holds on climate change and his fondness for our big emitters. On the eve of the release of the final Garnaut report, I just can't wait for tomorrow's good news.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Martin Ferguson leaves climate evasions to media minder

In my previous post, I challenged Martin Ferguson to hold a public meeting in his Batman electorate to answer questions about a proposal circulated by his office (or department) pushing a softened approach to an emissions trading scheme to industry. The proposal, along with the Wilkins Review on climate policy, recently failed to appear in the Senate despite the Government's obligation to table them.

This lack of disclosure comes at a critical time, as the documents in question bear on decisions about an effective climate response by Australia, and the signs thus far indicate that response will be manifestly inadequate.

In answer to my open challenge to Ferguson, one of his media minders called me this afternoon not really to offer actual answers, but to proffer evasions on Ferguson's behalf. The proposal to industry did not exist, she claimed, referring to Kim Carr's recent statements to the Senate (see infra for links).

That response is itself rather minimal when the story told by the Senate transcripts indicates that, since Senator Christine Milne's request for the tabling of the proposal on 3 September, it had morphed into the supposedly exempt working notes of an individual within Ferguson's department. The notes were provided to a business organisation before Ferguson's business round-table on 29 August, but Senator Carr's statements distance the notes from Ferguson.

In the context of the green paper and the forthcoming white paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), the circulation of the notes - if they perhaps did not constitute a proposal for the lack of spiral binding - warrants further scrutiny. Either they were circulated in the minister's knowledge and reflected his views, or they were circulated without his authority in the context of imminent discussions between Ferguson and his business round-table. In both cases, we need to know what the notes contained, who circulated them, and who they were given to, as there is a strong likelihood that their purpose was to influence the discussions and, ultimately, the Government's consideration of Australia's climate response measures.

For Ferguson's media minder to refer to Senate statements that themselves raise many more questions is simply an evasion.

And so to the Wilkins Review on climate policy. 'That's one of Penny's,' was the minder's response. Again, the Senate transcripts are revealing. Senator Nick Sherry states that 'The review has been prepared as an input in developing the government's climate change policy, including the forthcoming CPRS white paper'. Once again an influence on the decision process is concealed from open scrutiny, at the same time as the Government invites submissions from a selectively informed public. That consultation process is itself imperfect, with its option for confidential submissions that will never be made public, and now the talk that the white paper position is firming even before all public submissions on the green paper have been placed on the Government's climate change website

'One of Penny's' meant that Martin's minder would not be drawn on his position regarding the unjustified suppression of the Wilkins Review. I'd have to ask her office. My suggestion that Ferguson in fact had no explicit position (we can surmise where he stands) was met with a repetition of the line about the Office of Climate Change Minister, Senator Penny Wong. The proposal was the 'working notes of an individual', the Wilkins Review 'one of Penny's' - you get the picture.

If you'd like to read all the transcripts for yourself and want the specific links rather than the vague reference of a media minder, here they are. First read the Senate debates for 3 September, then the return to order for 4 September, and finally the return to order on 15 September. Thanks to openaustralia.org for making these transcripts readily accessible.

Finally, the media minder told me Ferguson would respond to my challenge to hold a public meeting on these issues and on his climate stance in general. I said I hoped he would do so within the timeframe for decision. As I've said before, we need to keep the heat on Ferguson, or he'll put the global heat on us. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An open challenge to Martin Ferguson on climate

Following a recent comment at Larvatus Prodeo, I have decided to issue a challenge to Martin Ferguson, Federal MP for Batman, to publicly answer for his retrograde stance on Australia's climate policy. Are his constituents too small-picture for the big-picture Minister for Resources and Energy? Only time will tell. Here's my email:

Dear Martin,

I understand that the Rudd Government recently refused to comply with its obligation to table in Parliament documents related to the Wilkins Review on climate policy and a proposal from your office advocating a softened ETS to industry. I further note that your proposal to industry has failed to make its way to the page on your website featuring your recent media releases. Why the lack of transparency on the part of the Rudd Government and yourself, especially at a time when submissions on the CPRS have recently been invited from the public?

It seems to me, as one of your constituents, that there is the public consultation, and another submerged, secret channel of influence open only to industry and beyond the scrutiny of voters. Industry may lobby you on the supposedly dire impacts of a transition to low-carbon practices, but I assure you, Martin, there is only one test of an ETS - its efficacy in helping to restrict global warming below levels where tipping points will be irreversibly triggered. Your industry stakeholders have had more than enough time to change their high-emitting behaviour - in fact, since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 - so please let us not have a soft start to the ETS for the sake of continuing the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. By all means compensate the workers, not the owners, but things must change.

Finally, I know you like a bit of a stoush, so I am happy to argue this issue in person at your convenience. Maybe you'd like to hold a public meeting to discuss your views with the Batman electorate, and why you're willing to argue for climate inaction that will condemn their children, and particularly the world's poor, to the impacts of unconstrained emissions in our atmosphere. Come on, Martin, with all your resources and minders you should be able to take on all comers. Maybe you can distribute copies of your proposal at the meeting and answer questions about it?

Cheers etc.
(Contact details supplied)

If you'd like Martin to answer some questions on this issue, why not contact him and let him know. Put the heat on him, before he puts it on us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

AIG puts the spin on Garnaut's reductions

As noted by The Age, Professor Ross Garnaut's proposed 10 per cent CO2 emissions reduction based on 2000 levels by 2020 is indeed defeatist. It is especially so when compared with the 40 per cent reduction (on 1990 levels) that science indicates is necessary by that year to help avoid the worst climate impacts.

As the Prime Minister has stated, however, Garnaut is but one of many inputs into his thinking, so we should also look to the influence of business and industry to see why Australia is leaning towards failure in the global climate challenge.

In a 5 September media release, and in comments reported by the ABC, Australian Industry Group head, Heather Ridout, says a five or ten per cent cut by 2020 based on 2000 levels 'would mean a reduction of between 20 and 25 per cent compared to current directions'.

Essentially, the AIG is proposing that Garnaut's reduction be considered not against known 2000 levels, but in terms of levels currently projected for 2020. Because we are roughly on track for 120 per cent of 2000-level emissions by 2020*, the fall down to 10 per cent below 2000 levels is a longer drop, and is a higher percentage of the projected total for 2020 - at about 25 per cent - than Garnaut's 10 per cent on the year 2000.

Makes his suggested cut look better, more substantial, doesn't it? The problem lies in justifying why Garnaut's target should be viewed against such a disastrous 2020 (projected) yardstick. The perverse implication is that the target of 10 per cent against 2000 levels looks better the steeper the trajectory to 2020 becomes. If the trajectory looked even worse, Garnaut's cuts would look heftier still. That is to say, a bad trajectory suits the AIG's spin down to the ground.

However, for purposes of saving our climate, compared with arguing for weak government action/compensation for business and industry, the ultimate target adopted by Australia should be measured not against a projection of our current profligate emissions, but against the science.

With his target set relative to 2000 levels, not a 1990 baseline, Garnaut's proposal is in fact less than 25 per cent of that necessary to save the planet. The Rudd Government needs to do much better.

*I've used the Government's Tracking to the Kyoto Target 2007 projection, and in particular, the green line on the graph in the summary on p.1. I estimate from this graph that a fall of 10 per cent from 2000 levels would take emissions down from roughly 550 Mt CO2-e to about 495 Mt CO2-e. Again using the green line, I put the 2020 projection at about 660 Mt CO2-e. To reach the 2000 10 per cent reduction level (495 Mt), that emission would need to fall about 165 Mt, or 25 per cent of the total projected emissions for 2020 (660 Mt). Looked at this way, Garnaut's 10 per cent cut on 2000 levels looks more substantial the worse the trajectory gets.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Schools and big business the wrong mix

Yesterday's announcement that big business is to get a new role in schools is but one step in a continuing shift towards the private for our declining public education system. In The Age yesterday, Farrah Tomazin wrote:

big companies will be asked to play a greater role in public education, 'partnering' schools in disadvantaged suburbs and areas with skills shortages.

They will also be asked to assist with financial contributions, student mentoring programs or 'in kind' donations such as computers and equipment.
Surprisingly, the Australian Education Union and the Victorian Association of State School Principals came out with qualified support. However, Victorian State President of the AEU, Mary Bluett, hit the nail on the head when she said:

If any association with a business means that the school itself, or the students, become a market for that business, then we'd oppose it.
And that's the problem. Businesses are going to expect a return on investment for their support of schools. Whether that takes the form of influencing curriculum, or of leveraging their financial support to influence government in other areas, there are big problems with this kind of proposal.

Schools are already set to be privately built and operated, and the increased injection of private funds only continues this trend. At the same time, inadequate public funding has turned many schools into petty fundraising operations when their real business is not a business at all - it's the education of our children.

In response to yesterday's article, The Age has today run a few letters opposing the move. Here's mine:

Truly private education

THE move to bring big business into schools is a distraction from the inadequate public funding and poor government accountability in providing school education in Victoria. Should the education of our children be so contingent on corporate benevolence? Will schools really be able to hold such businesses at arm's length from their curriculum?

In a supposedly public system that will increasingly be privately built and operated, and now funded, what kind of leverage do you think private interests will have over public education? Maybe one day the Brumby Government will outsource itself to a corporation.
The proposal should not go ahead. Given, however, that it looks set to proceed, Premier Brumby should be immediately challenged to make public the detail of mechanisms to ensure that undue influence of schools, and of government, will be prevented. Or are such measures a mere afterthought, overshadowed by the lure of cash?