Opposing CPRS is right

Originally published in FUSE, March 2011

In 2009, the Australian Government introduced its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) to parliament.

On the same day, Kevin Rudd spent his afternoon in Queensland, turning the first sod on a rail and port expansion that will treble the states’ coal exports. In doing so, he provided the greatest possible symbol for the reality of what the ALP’s climate policy is; a scheme that will take Australia and the world backwards in the fight against global warming.

Its pathetic targets aside, the CPRS has a number of problems that leave it not only as a completely useless tool for emissions cuts, but will actually facilitate increasing emissions in Australia. There are two key elements that will lead to this situation.

First, modelling has revealed that the scheme will not actually cut emissions in Australia until 2033. Until then, “cuts” will be based upon the purchase of offsets, mostly through forest initiatives in Indonesia. In 2033, cuts in Australia will apparently be possible as by then clean coal will be commercially viable. Clean coal is currently an unviable technology with no proof of possible success: apparently this does not come into account. The scheme therefore does nothing to change Australia’s energy system, but rather holds back money for doing so by sending it to what will often be dodgy offset schemes.

Second, under the CPRS carbon emitters will receive compensation in order to ‘adapt’. The more a company pollutes the more money it will get. This is problematic: if the idea is to make polluters pay for the damage they have caused, there are problems with compensating these polluters for having to do so.

Compensation voids the point of the scheme in the first place, leaving tax payers to pay for the mess companies have caused and giving companies no incentive to change their ways.

Given that major emitters will not actually have to adapt (as emissions cuts will be met through offsets until 2033), research shows that the CPRS will boost coal investment in Australia. There are now talks about recommissioning two coal power plants in Western Australia which will become profitable again as the compensation comes in. Other new coal investment is also planned across the Eastern seaboard.

But is this really a reason to oppose the scheme? Isn’t this just a start; something that we should pass now and build upon in the future? No. The CPRS is such a rigid scheme that making changes to it in the future will make it almost impossible. When you legally create a scheme that determines that way our economy will work for decades into the future, you cannot simply change it that easily. Some constitutional lawyers have advised that any future government would be liable to billions more in compensation if the scheme were to be changed.

With the introduction of the CPRS, an important decision had to be made; whether to take it as a first step for climate action or oppose it to get something better. This decision had to be based on whether the scheme will genuinely facilitate action or whether it will just cause more problems than it solves.

The Greens and environment groups opposition to the CPRS was not because it didn’t go far enough, but because it will hinder action and take Australia backwards in our fight against climate change. The CPRS will lock in failure for many years to come. For this reason, we must oppose it and fight for action that will genuinely tackle Australia’s emissions. Instead of locking in failure, we need a scheme that locks in success.

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