Why The ACF Is Behind Rudd On Emissions Trading

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I understand that many committed environmentalists do not agree with the Australian Conservation Foundation’s call to give qualified support to the revised Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposal announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday.

However, far from being "rusted-on supporters" of the ALP — or any other political party — as David Spratt argued on newmatilda.com on Monday, ACF is strictly non-aligned. Our charitable status would be imperilled by any action that could be interpreted by a hostile government as being party-oriented. We continue to urge all parties to commit to stronger action on climate in this crucial year to ensure Australia contributes to achieving desperately needed action at Copenhagen.

Contrary to Spratt’s allegation, ACF does not support the oxymoronic notion of "clean coal". I have published articles (including one on this very website) and spoken at conferences urging the phasing out of coal. I also proposed to the 2020 summit a complete moratorium on coal-fired power; a handful of coal industry representatives blocked consensus. I am happy to cop criticism about ACF’s actual position, but not prepared to see these fictions propagated.

ACF views the shift by the Government from a target of 15 per cent to 25 per cent as a step forward. We remain critical of the handouts to big polluters, the delayed start date and other flaws that need to be fixed. ACF views the revised target for cutting greenhouse pollution to 25 per cent in the context of a global agreement as an acceptable starting point. This is the start of a parliamentary process during which there may well be further amendments, good and bad, but it is an important foundation for further progress.

The stronger target of 25 per cent moves Australia from an international climate laggard into a reasonable position to help negotiate a successful outcome at the critical UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December. ACF remains optimistic that a global agreement to stabilise C02 levels at 450 parts per million is feasible and is worth fighting for. There is momentum building internationally and it is vital that Australia does not hold up the prospects of success.

Of course, ACF rejects the Government’s 5 per cent unconditional domestic target for reducing emissions. It is important to focus on international negotiations. The 5 per cent target will only happen if the UN talks fail and there is no global agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol. If there is a global agreement to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at 450ppm, Australia will have a 25 per cent target. ACF continues to campaign for global agreement on 450ppm or lower. In our view, the Government’s 5 per cent target is hypothetical, and assumes failure to get any global agreement.

ACF does not support the Government’s one year delay to the start of the emissions trading scheme, and strongly opposes the proposed increased payments to big polluters and the reduced starting price of carbon from $40 to $10 per tonne. We will continue to push strongly for improvements to the legislation at every step.

ACF remains committed to achieving a target of at least 30 per cent greenhouse pollution reduction in Australia by 2020, and at least 40 per cent if other developed countries do the same through an international agreement, and will continue to push for it.

ACF will also continue to argue for the phase out of coal and a moratorium on new coal-fired power stations at whatever opportunity arises.

So it is simply untrue to portray ACF’s position — that the Rudd Government’s revised package is one that could lead to better outcomes — as mindless support for a flawed position. The basic issue is whether the new proposals are so bad we would be better off with no target. Obviously, we believe it is better to have the strongest possible targets in place for the international negotiations in Copenhagen.

I hope we can continue to focus on what has to be the main objective: a serious global agreement to avoid dangerous climate change.

New Matilda

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