Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Gillard and a consensus on climate

I was at a climate event last night when one of the presenters, David Spratt, announced to the gathering that he'd received a text to say a challenge was on for the Labor leadership. It was a bombshell, and, as we saw this morning, Julia Gillard - always potential prime minister material - fulfilled that ambition in rather sad circumstances.

This morning's press conference, with only the odd false note, was coherent, focused and eloquent. Yet there's an immediate question mark over our new prime minister's stance on the resources tax and on climate action.

On the first, I thought it was a masterful stroke to cease the resources tax campaign with the accompanying proviso that the mining industry follow suit as a sign of good faith. Though I think the ads - however poor in execution - were justified, it's good to be able to avoid the charges of political advertising, provided the mining industry isn't thereby offered free hits with the continuation of its own propaganda.

However, the test will lie in what Julia's "open door" policy for the mining industry really means. If it turns out to mean a spineless watering-down of the resources tax (as happened with the ETS), then the leadership change will rightfully be seen as a massive win for the tactics of the mining industry. If it means a sensible approach to creating a clear and workable tax that recognises the strong case for the mining industry to pay (a lot) more, then that may be a good thing.

On climate there was also cause for concern. Julia spoke of the need for a strong community consensus before a price was put on carbon. In the context of her admission that she was a party to the decision to shelve the emissions trading scheme, this statement was worrying. She clearly wasn't talking about the obvious consensus that exists on the science, but on the public will to tackle the problem.

In that sense, the pressing question is what she is going to do about achieving that consensus within a timeframe that addresses the urgency of the science. She surely can't mean only the $30 million for better climate change communication drawn from the existing funding of a climate change department expected to find savings of $200 million?

I've argued before that the justification for the resources tax campaign would also justify a campaign on climate change, but that a truthful campaign on climate would force the government to acknowledge that its currently proposed measures are totally inadequate.

As David Spratt pointed out at the climate event I attended on the fateful night, the promises on the table at Copenhagen point to four degrees of warming - easily enough to push us past catastrophic climate tipping points.

It's now up to Julia. To a powerful case for election built on workplace relations, health and education, our first female prime minister can add climate action. Kevin Rudd ratified Kyoto; Julia can finish the job - as long as she recognises science as the benchmark of her success, or failure.

Comments welcome


  1. Thanks, Thomas. One especially worrying sign for climate was Friday's signing of an export deal for brown coal with Vietnam. As I'm sure you're aware, brown coal is much more carbon-intensive than black coal. Apparently this brown coal is destined for a process that will supposedly reduce its emissions to those of black coal. Black coal emissions are bad enough, but there's also the question of the energy used in the process.


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