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Playing politics with climate

State emission targets can be dumped - if a national carbon tax is in place.

Dumping Victoria's target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent compared with 2000 levels by 2020 makes sense. As the state government's review of Victoria's Climate Change Act points out, a national target to cut emissions by 5 per cent over the same period has rendered the state target redundant. Leaving it in place would merely require other states to do less, at considerable expense to Victoria.

Releasing the review of climate change laws, Environment Minister Ryan Smith was keen to emphasise the point. He was less keen to discuss what would happen if Tony Abbott won the next federal election and delivered on his ''pledge in blood'' to repeal the carbon tax.

Abbott supports the 5 per cent national target, but says it could be achieved through his relatively inexpensive ''direct action'' plan, which would involve tendering for emissions reductions.

Yet the Baillieu government's review, headed by former senior state Treasury bureaucrat Lynne Williams, appears implicitly sceptical that the 5 per cent target could be met under Abbott's scheme, arguing a unilateral state target should be reconsidered if the federal carbon tax (due to become an emissions trading scheme in 2015) is rescinded or changed.

''In the absence of a national [emissions trading scheme], unilateral action on the part of Victoria through a target may be justified,'' the review says. ''In its simplest sense, this is because there is a greater chance that a state-based policy will result in reduced national emissions. Consequently, if the national [emissions trading scheme] is rescinded, or substantially amended, the Victorian government may wish to reconsider the merits of a state-based target.''

This is a crucial, yet overlooked, caveat.

Just hours after Smith binned the 20 per cent target, Energy Minister Michael O'Brien rushed out an announcement reversing an election commitment to impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired power stations.

Why? Because the federal government shelved similar requirements late last year on the grounds that the carbon tax provided necessary incentives for emissions cuts without the need for explicit regulations.

As Smith revealed on Tuesday, he will talk to federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet about other areas of state environmental policy that may be similarly reversed because of the carbon tax. The Victorian Energy Efficiency Target, designed to encourage large energy retailers to sell energy-efficient products, will almost certainly be among them.

There is much irony here. The Baillieu government is using the carbon tax as an argument to abandon state-based measures to cut emissions while campaigning vigorously to quash the tax, even as science continues to suggest climate change will have a potentially devastating impact on Victoria. (The government's own report this week warned of more heat-waves, rising seas, less snow, more bushfires and less rain.)

With polling showing concern about global warming is less likely to influence voting than previously, other states are also unwinding their environmental policies.

The incoming Liberal National government in Queensland, for example, is promising to slash $661 million worth of state-based environmental initiatives over the next three years, and, as one of his first acts, Premier Campbell Newman withdrew $75 million earmarked for the Solar Dawn project near Chinchilla, part of the federal government's Solar Flagship Program.

There are sound arguments to abandon some state-based targets and policies to achieve them - provided the federal carbon tax remains the key mechanism to meet the national target.

In the current political environment there are no guarantees. And with no national emissions trading scheme and no state-based measures, brown coal would virtually be given carte blanche to expand while paying little heed to the concerns of the planet. The more cynical among us might see this as the real agenda.

Josh Gordon is Age state political editor.

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113 comments

  • Josh Gordon please do explain the COMPLETE and FULL workings of the PASSED legislation regarding the climate change actions to be taken by the current Fed. Gov. as from the first of July this year.
    It seems that a great majority of your readers do not have a clue what it is all about.
    Why do you think this is so Josh???
    The general media not explaining it correctly???

    Commenter
    Fred of Currimundi
    Date and time
    March 29, 2012, 8:28AM
    • Eh?
      Everyone knows taxation is being spent on pumping out V8 cars for the globe- supporting filthy oil companies is the actual alp agenda.

      # And remember the new alp mantra folks:
      Coal = evil smog but V8 = good smog.

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Finley
      Date and time
      March 29, 2012, 10:00AM
    • We have the Federal Gov't slugging everyone with a Carbon Tax. We have each of the States implementing different climate change strategies. We have the Local Council spending $8Million of our rates on climate change initiatives.

      When does all this madness end? We're being taxed to death with no say in how our money is used. Australia, no matter if at the Federal, State or Local level can't save the world on its own, nor should it. Stop making us pay for all these useless stupid green initiatives, that do nothing more than tickle Bob Brown's ego.

      Commenter
      Chrissy of St. Kilda
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      March 29, 2012, 11:46AM
    • Obviously the same thing is going to happen at the international level. Countries are already abandoning national ETS's as other foolish countries (Australia) pick up the slack and jobs are shipped offshore to them. I wonder how many Australian mining jobs are now going to go to Canada, now that they've decided not to have a carbon tax?

      Commenter
      LiamH
      Date and time
      March 29, 2012, 2:08PM
  • My money is on the newly elected conservatives here in Queensland beating the Victorian government hands down when it comes to dumping anything that might be good for air quality, free power from the sun and generally things that will benefit mankind in a positive way.

    Expect more get less.

    Newman Regrets. (substitute Bailleu)

    Commenter
    J. Fraser
    Location
    Queensland
    Date and time
    March 29, 2012, 8:41AM
    • climate change will have potentially devastating affect on Victoria -key word "potential" ..what model do you draw this information from Josh?...for example just today I read an article pointing out the wide disparity in sea rise claims....it seems on balance there is no problem here that we cannot adapt to...even the Dutch are comfortable. I would like to see a national audit on all these environmental schemes and make some hard decisions..incredible waste to give people a warm fuzzy feeling....yet achieve nothing for the good of the planet..very strange almost medeival behaviour.

      Commenter
      dasher
      Date and time
      March 29, 2012, 8:43AM
      • The denial lobby is at it again, sowing their distortion and disinformation. Climate change is:

        (a) Real;
        (b) Caused by human activity; and
        (c) Dangerous.

        It's called "climate change" these days rather than just "global warming" because dangerous effects come from shifting rainfall patterns as well as temperature changes. And, while the climate does have natural variability, the overwhelming consensus of real climate scientists worldwide is that:

        (a) The factors which are known to correlate excellently with global temperature variations over millenia ceased to do so, and to an increasing extent, over the last 50 years; and

        (b) If you add into the above factors the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases, the correlation is re-established.

        For governments to be abolishing programs addressing climate change is criminal. The 5% national target is too low and every State should have a higher one. Victoria, as the home of brown coal power stations, world worst practice in electricity generation, should have the highest target.

        Commenter
        Greg Platt
        Location
        Brunswick
        Date and time
        March 29, 2012, 9:41AM
      • Medieval thinking indeed.
        The majority of the last twelve years have been the hottest on record; extreme weather events are increasing, drought patterns are becoming entrenched, species extinction are at record levels, climate changes are causing massive deforestation of native lodgepole pine forests in North America, Carteret Islanders have been permanently evacuated... while the global climate science community presents well supported peer-reviewed science.
        Clinging to ideas like 'It was a cold day yesterday" or 'the Dutch are comfortable" or my favorite "carbon dioxide is not a pollutant' in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence is a sad psychological exercise in denial and projection.

        Commenter
        Tips
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        March 29, 2012, 9:52AM
      • Unfortunately, Tips, the backward thinking denialists believe when it rains it's proof that climate change isn't real.

        How to get these fools to actually use their brain cells is beyond me. They don't grasp the simple concept of weather vs climate. If they can't get their tiny brains around that, then I hold no hope for them!

        Commenter
        Very sad!
        Date and time
        March 29, 2012, 11:47AM
      • @Greg Platt. I am not a denialist! I simply have not been pursuaded that the hysteria around climate change is justified. For every scientist who advocates climate change there is another who does not. You choose to believe the yay sayers I say simply I'm unconvinced - either way.
        @Tips. Even if they are the hottest on record (doubtful as I remember incredible heatwaves from my childhood) records only go back so far. Look at the history of the earth. The heat that created the sahara desert whcih was once a forest, and the gobi and other deserts as well, exceeds hundreds of times what we have now and zero human involvement. The ice age came and went without human involvement. Human impact on the environment is miniscule compared to mother nature and always will be.
        And what will a carbon tax or an ETS achieve - absolutely nothing as companies will continue operating, pay the costs and pass them on. And what's wrong with carbon anyway? Trees need it to produce oxygen. If there is too much of it the answer is simply to plant more trees - millions of them. But wait, that will cost the govt whereas a tax will pad out the coffers.

        Commenter
        Carbon Copy
        Date and time
        March 29, 2012, 1:25PM

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