Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Australia goes to Copenhagen without an ETS

By Johan Lidberg

Tony Abbot – the new leader of the federal Opposition in Australia. Who would have thought that only a week ago? Climate change provokes a shift in climate - and politics.

When the Senate today voted against the Rudd Government’s emissions trading scheme, or ETS, it sent a clear message to the world and the Copenhagen summit: the per capita greatest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world will not take the lead on reducing its emissions.

The ETS is by no means a perfect model for concrete action. After endless rounds of watering down and negotiations between the heavy polluters, such as coal-fired power plants, the Federal Government and the Opposition, it looks far too much like the earlier failed European version of ETS. Its main flaw is the pollution permits given away to the industry that should adapt to a new green economic system, rather than being allowed to continue as if nothing has happened.

Instead of firm action to counter climate change, the ETS has become a symbolic issue in Australia – a start of the transition from an unsustainable to a sustainable economy. Now, it seems, Australia cannot even deliver symbolic action.

The Liberal Party has promised its own version of the ETS in January 2010. Judging by the last few weeks of in-party convulsions on climate change, this may be an overly optimistic time line. At least, if Liberal Senator Nick Minchin’s estimate is correct that about half of the Liberal federal MPs are climate change sceptics.

Events such as the killing of the ETS Bill in Australia clearly illustrates the pivotal importance of the Copenhagen conference delivering some sort of agreement and commitment to firm action to counter global warming. The responsibility weighs heavily on the delegates going into the conference.

However, this is their job. They have been elected to do it and there is little sympathy for the fact that they left it so late to focus properly on their task. If the world could swing quickly into action to counter the global financial crisis it can do the same on climate change. After all – a damaged biosphere is really bad for business – isn’t it?

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