Good Luck Getting That Through The Senate

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This is the first day of the end of the climate of Australia as we know it.

Sorry, I hate to be apocalyptic and all that, but it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of our country when our Government — which claims to be taking climate change seriously — has just committed to letting it run its course.

Let’s get straight down to brass tacks. A 5 per cent target means disastrous levels of global warming. It’s as simple as that. Forget all the guff about per capita reductions. The atmosphere doesn’t "care" how many of us there are, just how much carbon is spewed into it. What does matter is the atmospheric CO2 concentration in parts per million (ppm). The Rudd-Wong target announced today, if adopted by the rest of the world, means a CO2 concentration above 550ppm. As I wrote earlier this year, that means goodbye, Murray Darling. So long, Barrier Reef. Sayonara to snow. Hello to a new southern Australian dust-bowl.

Let’s recall the science, because Kevin Rudd apparently can’t be bothered. At 384ppm CO2 and rising fast, we’re already in trouble. James Hansen and many other climatologists think the tipping point is probably 350ppm or even 325ppm. So signing up for a target this low is a little bit like steering the Titanic straight for the iceberg, but with the engines running at three-quarter speed.

Even if we accept the argument that this target is "achievable", "politically feasible", "balanced" and all the other weasel words that have been thrown around — it remains true that the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is a dog. It ignores much of what the Europeans learned with their emissions trading scheme — especially the obvious lesson of not giving away pollution permits for free.

Professor Ross Garnaut made a similar point, and also advised that the Government should aim for an atmospheric CO2 target of 450ppm. This White Paper gives away a quarter of all permits for free to the big polluters, and the design of the scheme means they actually get more free permits over time! It’s one of the worst cases of public policy in Australia, ever.

The accepted wisdom is that Kevin Rudd is playing smart politics by wedging the Greens and not getting big business offside. This is wrong too. Rudd has now ruined any credibility Labor retained with environmentalists, scientists and Greens voters, who must now surely be expected to turn viciously against the Rudd Government. Not only will he not be able to get this Bill through the Senate, but he may have said goodbye to plenty of Greens preferences in the next election. That’s not particularly smart ballot box politics, whatever the principle at stake.

And the principle at stake is nothing less than the survival of the planet as we know it. As I wrote last week, nothing else Kevin Rudd does matters if he gets climate change wrong. Well, he just did get climate change policy wrong. Very wrong. This is a disastrous day for the future of Australia.

Ben Eltham

Ben Eltham is New Matilda's National Affairs Correspondent.

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