Rudd's great greenwash

Green paint, Flickr image by Jordan PerrI watched on ABC TV the Prime Minister's lunch-hour Press Club address 'Australia's Low Pollution Future: Launch of Australian Government's White Paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme'.

Reaction was immediate and forceful. In less than one hour, the ABC News interactive website on Rudd's emissions target announcement received 181 comments, which must surely be a record, before closing the channel. Most comments seemed to be from younger people, bitterly indignant at betrayed hopes, in light of the highly conservative 5–15 per cent 2020 emissions reduction target range that Rudd announced today.

A young woman protester was ejected from the Press Club, due to her heartbroken screams of 'No!' as Rudd announced the target. This dramatic moment will define the day. By mid-afternoon, GetUp had launched an internet protest mobilisation campaign. New Matilda website carried a strong condemnatory article by Anna Rose, founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, who attended the just-ended UN Poznan conference.  

Such rage is understandable. In Tony Blair style, Rudd today talked the talk but didn't walk the walk. His own lofty words are the best condemnation of his policies. He accepts the science of climate change, but thinks that by putting his government somewhere in the middle of the range of views in Australia, he offers 'balance'.

But on science-based issues, being balanced between right and wrong policies is not being right. The Government claims to accept IPCC science, but it has offered a policy outcome that will prove destructive for our children.

Rudd today tried to push real concern for the future out of mainstream political discourse in Australia, to again cordon it off safely in a politically powerless Green ghetto, as Howard did for 12 years.

He offered us greenwash. His policies announced today effectively lock Australia into 12 more years of tokenistic, half-hearted spending on mitigation and adaptation at home, while generously feeding the present coal-based economy. Rudd today guaranteed effectively unimpeded growth to 2020 in our worst carbon-emitting industries.

Globally, the announced policy is supine, waiting for other countries to lead, in which case Australia might follow — but only by lifting our 2020 targets, not to 25 per cent, the minimum recommended by the IPCC, Stern and Garnaut, but to a miserable 15 per cent. What an example to the world.

Rudd claims special treatment on grounds that Australia's population will expand by 45 per cent between 1990 and 2020. He argues that we need more latitude to emit greenhouse gases than other countries. This is morally dishonest.

What gives Australia a special licence to pursue population increase and population-driven economic growth policies, when we implicitly hope developing countries will not do the same? Are only wealthy countries like Australia allowed to grow their populations?

Morally, the world must aim for sustainable populations and equal per capita emissions everywhere.

By 2050, Rudd won't be around as prime minister. He talked airily of going to the people at our next election, seeking a mandate to lift the 2050 target from its present Bali-agreed 60 per cent (many scientists now recommend 80 or 90 per cent decarbonisation of the world economy by 2050, if we are to avoid the worst global warming effects), if world opinion moves that way.

By announcing such weak targets for the years that matter, 2010-2020, Rudd treats us with contempt. He patted people on the head for offering to wash their clothes in cold water and turn off their computers at night, while giving industry licence to pollute as much as it likes over the next ten years. Are we to accept such patronising drivel?

I cannot believe that Rudd, a former diplomat, so badly misreads the crucial global negotiation over the lead-up to Copenhagen. He must have read Garnaut's clear expositions of the prisoner's dilemma and the global commons. He knows that somebody has to lead in public-goods negotiations, if anything good is to happen.

When so many people of eminence and judgement reported back on Australia's large responsibility for the failure of Poznan to advance global targets, that our delegation brief had betrayed the cause, how could he have announced the policies he did today?

The answer must be that this is a weak prime minister, beholden to the powerful corporate and trade union elites of heavy carbon-producing industries, and scared of antagonising them or destabilising his chances at the next election. Rudd has put short-term political survival ahead of his responsibilities to the next generation. Where is Bonhoeffer now when we need him?

The Canberra Times carried an ominous report today by Philip Dorling, 'Crackdown on anti-coal protesters: law to be strengthened'.

Dorling reports that federal state and territory energy ministers agreed at a meeting in Adelaide last Friday to recommend 'as a matter of urgency' to federal, state and territory attorneys-general 'a formal review of penalties that should apply to unlawful disruption [of critical coal power generation and coal export facilities], noting the importance of energy security to the Australian economy and way of life'.

We saw Rudd's silken glove today. In coming years we may see his iron fist, as desperate physical protests against the stupidity of persisting with expansion of coal energy are suppressed as eco-terrorism. With Rudd's capitulation today to Australia's power elites, this is the bleak future that awaits us, unless GetUp's and other campaigns restore some environmental responsibility to our political leaders.

Tony KevinTony Kevin retired from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1998, after a 30-year public service career in DFAT and Prime Minister's Department.


Topic tags: tony kevin, kevin rudd, gge, greenhouse gas emissions, 2020, garnaut



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Existing comments

Tony is right to condemn the feeble approach of the Rudd Government to climate change. However, there are more fundamental issues than setting targets for carbon emmissions. Australia is copying the European model for carbon trading, which was created in an era when people believed in the dogma of "the market knows best". This has now been seen as an excuse for rampant exploitation, speculation and greed. What is needed is a system for government to firmly regulate emissions, without selling licences to pollute. This system should be driven by updated scientific advice, not by the gyrations of the stock market.
Alan Stewart | 16 December 2008

I agree, Tony. I have already joined GetUp's campaign, and donated money to help it. I urge everyone who agrees with you to do the same. There is one further matter you do not mention. This policy does nothing to help the alternative energy industry, which should have been the source of many jobs and great wealth for Australia.
Alan Hogan | 16 December 2008

Who has the balls to get us out of this mess - to legislate against the massive polluters? And are the affluent nations prepared to settle for less? The words mankind and greed are synonymous. History proves it. We need a change of heart, an international spiritual sea change. How can we achieve this?
Chris Hunter | 16 December 2008

Kevin Rudd 'a weak prime minister' yet 'in coming years we may see his iron fist'. We know that enthusiasts are inclined to exaggerate but I think that Tony has gone over the top. He infers that reduction targets for 2020 should reach the minimum reduction figure recommended by the 'IPCC, Stern and Garnaut' of 25%. Yet some environmentalists speak of a 45% reduction as being essential. What is Tony's top number? Which figure would drive Tony to the barricades? Would he settle for 30%? He'd be lumped with the 'greenwashers' by those who opted for 45%, wouldn't he?
Claude Rigney | 16 December 2008

Australia's population will expand by 45% b/n 1990 and 2020?

Seems to me a cure for food security, for how then in 2020 do we have zero population growth, or is Mr Rudd not telling us that the plan is to keep piling on the numbers until we starve to death, for by 2020 and certainly beyond, there won't be the food in the outside world to supplement our deficit.
michael mazur | 22 December 2008

Claude Rigney wonders what carbon emission target for which Tony Kevin should argue. He mentions IPCC, Stern and Garnaut as founts of wisdom, and Stern and Garnaut are economists who refer to the IPCC. The IPCC, in turn, may have contain scientists, but its final assessments are always vetted by the political paymasters (refer Political corruption of IPCC Report? by David Wasdell.

NASA’s James Hansen and colleagues, however, have not been so muzzled (God Bless America). In a recent paper “Target Atmosphere CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, they answer Claude’s question, recommending that atmosphere CO2 should be 350 ppm.

Atmosphere CO2 is presently approaching 390 ppm, from 280 ppm in 1750AD, and 180 ppm during the most recent glaciation c20000BC. In the million years prior to the Industrial Revolution, the highest atmospheric CO2 level was during an interglacial warm period, and was 315 ppm. All human civilisation has developed during the present interglacial.

Hansen et al’s 350 ppm should therefore be high enough to forestall another glaciation, low enough to not unduly melt permafrost (which would trigger runaway warming due to methane), and low enough to halt further acidification of the oceans (which would play merry hell with present fisheries).

So Claude’s question is “what level of CO2 emissions will get us from 390 ppm to 350 ppm?” The answer is 0 net emissions (ie target 100% emissions reduction) and wait for nature to absorb the excess.

The next question is, how do we get from present emissions (which are unduly devastating our ecology) to 0, without unduly devastating our economy?

The answer is technological change, which will take time. Free market economies are the best way to engender the requisite technological change, but carbon emission trading is, as Alan Stewart writes, a highly inefficient, corruptible way of attempting this change.
Emissions trading will certainly fail to engender the requisite technological change, yet a price needs to be put on carbon emissions.

The best way to do that is a GST-like, revenue-neutral carbon tax. In the first year, it’d be a low rate of tax, say, $5 per tonne CO2 emitted. In the second year, the tax would be slowly ramped up to, say, $10 per tonne, $15 per tonne in the third year and so on. The rate of carbon tax would then be continually raised, with maintenance of revenue neutrality by tax cuts elsewhere, until the economy is purged of carbon emissions.

To facilitate decisions to invest in emission-reducing technological change, the schedule of carbon tax rates would be published several years in advance.

Meanwhile, we’ll make a motza, flogging all the technology we’ve developed to the rest of the world.
David Arthur | 06 January 2009

Thank you for not mincing words Tony. We need more straight talkers who are not afraid if they will be unpopular, but who try to speak the truth as they see it.

I am deeply disappointed in Kevin Rudd's actions in the last 6 months. Towards Assylum Seekers, and now backing down on our responsibilities towrds our planet. Does he not think of his grandchildren?

Mr Rudd;s policy on Assylum Seekers has been alarming to say the least.He has reverted to the fear campaign of Mr.Howard. ''We must protect our borders.''What about protecting human beings, who were not born in our lucky country.

Mr Rudd's whole outlook seems to have changed. Has power become his drving force? or fear of losing an election? Is he ruled by the coal industry? We know it will be hard policies, but is he forgetting that perhaps he may be more popular if he 'bites the bullet' and shows true leadership. A lot of people are worried for their grandchildren.We elect leaders so that they can lead. Mr. Rudd do something constructive, which replaces coal .Pour money into green energy. Solar ,thermal, wind and more. Many are waiting for you to act.

I also have joined GetUp's campaign.
Bernie Introna | 21 December 2009

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