Monday, May 3, 2010

Rudd's climate backflip deadly in empty pool

In Saturday's edition of The Age, Michael Gordon offerered an interesting analysis of Kevin Rudd’s climate backflip, but highlighted its game-playing political dimensions over the objective impacts of the prime minister’s failure to act. Gordon suggested the backflip “does matter”, but largely as a mistake of arrogance and communication with consequences for voter sentiment.

It was from this perspective that he noted the “case for shifting ground on climate change”, pointing out the decline in still substantial public concern about climate both here and in the US. It was almost as if, were that concern to decline beyond a certain point, the problem of climate change would disappear. Instead, it grows only more compelling as science finds serious impacts occurring at ever lower levels of warming, as the ANU's Professor Will Steffen noted in his address at the launch of the Transition Decade campaign in Melbourne back in February.

Gordon did argue that the prime minister should have stood by Penny Wong to build a “consensus for action”, but this ignores the reality that the currently proposed emissions trading scheme does not amount to the “credible action” the prime minister is demanding of the world before he moves on "the great moral challenge of our time".

A double-dissolution election over the ETS is not the answer, however. If Labor could overcome Martin Ferguson's aversion to a deal with the Greens, an interim carbon tax would be a start while the details of a much stronger scheme are hammered out. Honest, public-interest communication by Government is also needed to persuade voters of the necessity for urgent measures.

In the same edition of the paper, Adam Morton reported Penny Wong's view that deferring a decision on action until the end of 2012 offered “a good opportunity to assess the level of progress internationally”. Unfortunately, without science-based action now, that “progress” is likely to be towards worsening impacts and the realisation that our chance to avoid climate calamity may well be gone.

In the paper's Insight section, Tony Wright gave welcome emphasis to the physical impacts over the political game-playing when he highlighted accelerating changes in the melting of Antarctic ice that featured on last Thursday's excellent ABC TV Catalyst program.

In the business pages, Paddy Manning looked at the Greens interim carbon tax, finding value in the "overlooked" proposal. Business also featured Ross Gittins in a clear but flawed piece on why progress is supposedly being made by the Government, via Copenhagen etc. It's worth reading, but my question to Gittins is how long can we "prepare to prepare" to take weak action?

He also offered a tired argument similar to that advanced by the Australian Industry Group that a 5 per cent cut on 2000 emissions by 2020 is really a much bigger cut on projected, business-as-usual levels by that year. Unfortunately, the more our projected emissions are talked up and characterised as almost inevitable, the better such meagre cuts look. Instead of inflating inadequate actions by comparing them to catastrophic projections we have yet to emit, we should compare every proposed cut to what the science says is needed.

Finally, on a more positive note, in an excellent piece for The Sunday Age, Guy Pearse warned that the campaign for stronger climate measures to replace Rudd's failed CPRS must press for genuine domestic cuts through limiting the use of international carbon credits and pushing for a coal "phase-down" that targets exports, not just power generation in Australia – a must-read.

Don't miss ABC TV's Q&A tonight, which features Senators Wong, Minchin and Milne.

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