Senator Penny Wong – unfashionable but right?

Senator Penny Wong has an exceptionally erudite column in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that – I think – does a remarkable job of cutting through the crap on both sides of the climate change issue. With all the hubbub in recent weeks about a mooted further government review of the proposed emissions trading scheme, and the Coalition amusingly promising a stronger scheme but declining to outline what that scheme might amount to, one could be forgiven for being confused about what the hell is happening on climate change.

Wong’s column goes some way towards dispelling this. On one front, she mounts a defense of the government’s scheme and the much-publicised low targets:

By starting to reduce our emissions from next year, Australia will be putting a cost on carbon pollution before some competitor economies. We are doing this because we know it is in our interest to take action now and encourage the rest of the world to do the same. But there is no point in putting a cost on carbon pollution in Australia if it simply results in jobs and emissions being exported to countries that do not yet face a carbon price.

And whatever people think about these so-called “big polluters”, the fact remains that many Australians are employed in these industries.

We are embarking on an economic transformation to create the low pollution jobs of the future, but it is a transformation that will take time.

Wong then goes on to reiterate the case for action:

We can do nothing – and lock in more emissions growth. Current projections show emissions would be 20 per cent higher by 2020 than they were in 2000 if we choose not to act.

Alternatively, we can initiate the scheme to ensure we are 5-15 per cent below where we were in 2000 by 2020. The scheme will result in emissions being up to 30 per cent lower in 2020 than if the scheme is rejected. The scale of this transformation cannot be brushed aside.

Make no mistake – Senator Wong has to sail the government’s emissions trading boat on a profoundly tempestuous sea. She and the Rudd Government are facing formidable attacks from the left; the government’s targets certainly seem on first consideration to be pathetically low. The government is also under considerable pressure from conservatives and indeed polluting industries to water down the plan, or to scupper it altogether given the economic crisis that the world still finds itself in. If the nation emerges from all of this political and economic turmoil with a functioning apparatus to reduce emissions – even if it is a little weak to start with – Wong will have done an amazing job.

The first cut is be the deepest. Yeah sure, there was Rod Stewart, but before him, just remember it was Cat Stevens.

ELSEWHERE: Harry Clarke also thinks Penny Wong is on the right track.