Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ryan's "streetlight" defence of climate inaction

Victorian minister for the environment and climate change, Ryan Smith, last night offered a feeble "streetlight" defence of the Baillieu Government's climate change inaction.

Speaking on ABC 7.30 Victoria, Smith suggested the Government's scrapping of the State's 2020 emissions target, the slated expansion of its emissions-intensive brown coal industry, and the removal of emissions caps for new brown-coal-fired power stations would be compensated by emissions savings from programs such as more energy-efficient streetlights.

Ryan did cite other "complementary" measures to reduce emissions - including the likely-to-be-scrapped Victorian Energy Efficiency Target - but failed to quantify savings from such programs compared to the massive prospective emissions from the expansion of brown coal.

He asserted the State's role was now primarily to adapt to climate change, with responsibility for abatement and mitigation left to the Federal Government.

As noted earlier this week by Environment Defenders Office lawyer, Michael Power, in this the Victorian Government is relying on national measures to justify the scrapping of the State target at the same time as it attacks the carbon price with leader of the Federal Opposition and climate sceptic, Tony Abbott.

Smith asserted that, despite disagreement with the carbon price, there was bi-partisan federal commitment to the 5 per cent 2020 target - nothwithstanding the widespread questioning of the Federal Coalition's plans to achieve it. He maintained that with a federal scheme, a State target did not make sense, noting commentary during the week supporting his view.

State political editor for The Age, Josh Gordon wrote, for example that State emissions targets could be dumped if a national carbon tax were in place. However, he noted as a "crucial, yet overlooked caveat" the advice of the State Government's own review of the Climate Change Act that a State-based target be considered if the national scheme were "rescinded or substantially amended".

The caveat is important, but the central flaw in Gordon's piece is that Victoria's 2020 emissions reduction target should not be abandoned regardless of the adoption or otherwise of a national carbon price. If national measures were adequate on the science it might be another matter, but they are not.

In this regard both the State and Federal Government are guilty of effective climate change denial - making statements and even laws purporting to act on climate, while pursuing activities that render effective climate action impossible.

At both levels of government, this applies especially to the pursuit of coal. In February, for example, Martin Ferguson and Michael O'Brien, the respective Federal and State resources and energy ministers, together launched a carbon capture and storage project in Morwell, where a six-month extension to the contentious high-emissions HRL brown coal-fired power proposal was also announced.

That project has now won VCAT approval, partly on the back of the scrapping of the Victorian 2020 emissions target.

Even if it were granted that the State Government's role was primarily to adapt to climate change, there would be an implicit moral obligation not to make it worse through policies that can only serve to rapidly and massively increase the State's carbon emissions.

To further abdicate responsibility by abandoning prevention of climate change through State measures only mirrors the forlorn argument that Australia should not act as a nation until there is agreement on global action. Climate denial reigns - effective or explicit, the results for our global atmosphere will be disastrously the same.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.