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

After hopes were raised at the 2007 election that Labor was offering a different approach to climate change policy - one that recognised our global obligations - it is devastating to find that Kevin Rudd is beholden to the same lobby that held sway during the Howard years. It is such a betrayal and so utterly gutless. His own children won't thank him for blinking at such a crucial time. Why do so many people - and industries- still think it is okay for this generation to live so obviously beyond what is sustainable- to have much higher standards of living than the generations before us and most of the world's population.The only hope is that inspired international leadership by Barack Obama can lift Australian sights beyond the mediocre. Unfortunately climate change is just one of the pressing challenges he is expected to solve.
Kate | 08 January 2009

If only it were Tony Kevin running the country and not Kevin Howard! I was outraged by Rudd's betrayal and immediately fired off over a dozen emails to disinterested politicians in his bunker, only to receive a choir of perfunctory responses. He has learnt much from Honest-John Howard, in particular, how to stay politically alive, while condemning principles to death.

You make the obvious but correct point: a 5% cut is a weak and cowardly concession to the "powerful corporate and trade union elites"; and that a follow-the-leader, monkey-see-monkey-do, 15% cut in carbon by 2020 is still hopelessly inadequate to deal with the fast-approaching and irreversible slide into greenhouse conditions.

I would argue that Kevin Howard - sorry Rudd - is our most timid, dsapointing, and 'out of touch' prime minister in living memory. I call on him to say sorry to the next generation of children whose hell he helped bring to pass.
david akenson | 08 January 2009

Roughly in the same week that Rudd announced the 5% target, he also announced that Windorah has converted to 100% solar. I find that much more positive than the other is negative. It's a real doing without going head-to-head with the coal and oil industries.
Barry & Judith Rosenberg | 08 January 2009

When Tony's article was first published, in my submitted comment I agreed with David Akenson's statement that 15% cut in greenhouse gas emission is inadequate.

One of my fellow prior correspondents noted that the IPCC, Stern and Garnaut all argue for cuts of 25 % by 2020. I rejoined that 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).

In a recent paper “Target Atmosphere CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, NASA's James Hansen and colleagues recommend that atmosphere CO2 should be 350 ppm. Noting that it is presently approaching 390 ppm, I argue that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 100%.

Atmosphere CO2 is presently approaching 390 ppm, up from 280 ppm in 1750AD, and 180 ppm during the most recent glaciation. In the million years prior to the Industrial Revolution, the highest atmospheric CO2 level was during an interglacial warm period (all human civilisation has developed during the present interglacial), and was 315 ppm. Hansen et al’s 350 ppm should be high enough to forestall another glaciation, low enough to not unduly melt permafrost (which would trigger runaway warming due to methane) low enough to halt further acidification of the oceans (which would play merry hell with present fisheries).
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 a highly inefficient, corruptible way of attempting the change, and will certainly fail to engender the requisite technological change.
A price nevertheless 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 set at a low rate, say, $5 per tonne CO2 emitted. In the second year, the tax would be, 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 | 08 January 2009

Why should the public bother to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, or water use either, for a mere 5% reduction by 2020? The increase in population is purely for economic reasons, for developers and businesses, not for the benefit of most people. With contradictory policies, Kevin Rudd obviously doesn't take climate change seriously. Facing it is in everybody's interest, not just business groups. Future generations will condemn this greedy and selfish generation.
Bob Ollie | 09 January 2009

Does Rudd REALLY know who and what Bonhoeffer was about?
nick agocs | 09 January 2009

The ETS is a disincentive to the development of the LNG processing in Aust, which will deliver more savings in carbon emissions than the Tax can, in encouraging efficiency gainsin existing industry.
Nev Hunt | 09 January 2009

It's all becoming so clear now to so many. The Peter Garrett performer & the big time Kevin 07 getting a ride on the rock star's back. The more the planet deteriorates under the hands of the performers, the clearer it will become. Many of qualified scientist can assure us of that.
Atheistno1 | 16 January 2009

The most galling aspect of this target is that Mr Rudd already had Treasury modeling showing it made very little difference if the target were 5% or 25%. He could restore some confidence if he used the construction of green energy projects as a big part of the economic stimulus. As usual we have to wait for someone to take us by the hand like a little child. I await Mr Obama's response to Climate Change eagerly
Gregory Churm | 28 January 2009

I agree with everything the author of this article had to say and I will just add this, only the greens will do what is required, we must have a green government.
james mcmaugh | 29 January 2009

Kevin Dudd keeps treating the people with condescending jargon that only highlights the facts that he works for the coal companies.

The true answer is to give power to the people: offer them the same price per kilowatt that the coal power companies get. Let the farmers farm electricity and wipe CO2 production from coal power from this country.

I am a farmer, my farm is a bare paddock with no water. I could fill it with solar panels in 12 months IF we got paid per kilowatt.
terrarocks | 31 January 2009


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