Regional survey exposes three myths in Australian climate change debate

A new report from international law firm Allens Arthur Robinson surveying climate change strategies across Asia Pacific has found the debate in Australia too narrowly focused on an ETS. The report entitled One Hat Doesn’t Fit All was an overview of climate change measures in 14 countries: Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Report co-author Grant Anderson said the debate in Australia and NZ has focused on a domestic ETS, but the wider region is looking at many measures to promote the green economy, all necessary to combat climate change.

(photo of Copenhagen bike commuter by David Dennis)

The report identified “three myths” about emissions reduction. The first is that Australia can afford to wait until after Copenhagen to see what the rest of the world is doing on climate change. While it is possible (though unlikely) negotiations may include more ambitious proposals, many countries in the region including China, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand have all announced unilateral measures to position in the green economy. Australia should be looking at targets and national feed-in tariffs to support renewables as well as providing tax incentives, fuel price reforms and energy efficiency programs.

The second myth is China is doing nothing to constrain its greenhouse gas emissions. While the emissions are growing rapidly as the economy expands, China is investing heavily in renewable energy and becoming more energy efficient while increasing taxes on higher polluting products and industries. Ahead of Copenhagen, the Chinese government announced it would curb emissions per unit of gross domestic product by between 40 and 45 percent from the 2005 levels by 2020.The Chinese are also increasing consumption taxes on transport fuel, and have introduced stringent fuel efficiency regulations for vehicles.

The third myth is a “silver bullet” to solve climate change. The countries in the Asia Pacific region are taking a wide variety of approaches suitable to local economic and geographic conditions. While Japan and Singapore concentrate on energy efficiency, poorer countries such as Indonesia and PNG are working to avoid deforestation. The Philippines is the world’s second-largest producer of geothermal energy, and is now expanding into wind, solar, mini-hydro and biofuels initiatives with the aim of being 60 per cent energy self-sufficient in 2010. The report says many emission reduction measures will be needed to solve the problem of climate change.

Australia is particularly exposed with its reliance on cheap reserves of coal, an energy-intensive export industry, and a sparsely located population wedded to private car usage. As Malcolm Turnbull noted this week, there is no costless way of moving to a lower emission economy. The country has been absorbed by the fight over the Government’s version of the ETS, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme which remains mired in the Senate after this week’s defeat despite its compromises that limit its effectiveness. Meanwhile a vast untapped resource of renewable energy is supplying less than five percent of the base load and no one will talk about nuclear.

Because of these factors, Australia faces relatively high economic costs of abatement compared with other developed countries. A key element in Australia’s negotiating position at Copenhagen is the idea of “comparable effort”. The concept requires Australia adopt a national allocation budget between 2013 and 2020 comparable in its economic impact to that shouldered by other advanced countries. Economic modeling by Access Economics has shown a comprehensive climate change global agreement is more cost and environmentally effective from Australia’s point of view than a partial agreement.

But the AAR warns it could take years to nut out a comprehensive post-Copenhagen agreement. The 180-page treaty draft is strewn with 2,000 square brackets each indicating a point of difference between participants. It notes that although it took two years to agree the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, much of the nitty-gritty was not agreed until the 2001 Marrakesh Accords and even then it did not come into force until Russia signed up in 2005.

Australia should be widening its net far beyond its flawed ETS.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s