Is the emissions trading scheme doomed?

After months of earnest assertions to the contrary, the Rudd Government has finally caved in to the pressure and postponed its emissions trading scheme. Although the nation’s worsening economic situation no doubt accounted for a substantial component of that pressure, its certainly fair to say that the government’s backdown represents a political victory for the Opposition. For some time now Malcolm Turnbull has been promoting the postponement cause, and despite the fact that his party has engineered yet another schizophrenic change of mind on the issue, refusing to back the government’s revised approach to emissions-trading even though it owes much to its own, it would appear that he has won this little stoush with the Prime Minister.

Personally, I think there are credible cases that can be made for either side of the debate. It goes without saying that while the economy was getting a pummeling, introducing a new, somewhat risky mechanism that threatened to impact profitability and therefore jobs for thousands of Australians was a politically dubious step to take. While I accept the fact that the climate change science demands swift and effective action, most people (myself included) instinctively feel that a delay of a year or two is probably not going to end life on Earth as we know it. In ideal conditions I would love to see action now, but we are living in far from ideal conditions. The government has already spent billions of dollars during the past nine months, stimulating the economy and sending the country into a significant amount of debt in the process. It must have a serious concern that it commands neither the requisite economic or political capital to launch the emissions-trading scheme during this time of crisis.

On the flip side of the coin, one really does have to question the Rudd Government’s commitment to climate change. The science calls for bold steps, not delays or a pragmatic watering down. I frankly don’t understand why the government has only now decided to cave in to the Opposition on this issue. If it really is the case that the economic situation is so dire that implementing the ETS would be unsustainable, the government should have known this six months ago. When economists the world over were saying six months ago that it is likely going to take over a year to get out of this slump, the government should have been paying attention and started sounding the alarm bells then. Instead, it continued to glibly peddle the line that the ETS would be implemented as scheduled, despite the fact that the global financial system was crumbling all around it. Putting the science aside completely for just a second, we would have to conclude that this exemplifies poor judgement.

While we have an Opposition full of climate change sceptics and opportunists and a government with such a wavering commitment to the issue, it’s hard to be very confident that we are eventually going to get an outcome. At this rate, I would certainly not be putting money on a functioning emissions-trading scheme being implemented in Australia any time soon – whether 2010, 2011 or 2012.

6 thoughts on “Is the emissions trading scheme doomed?

  1. “For some time now Malcolm Turnbull has been promoting the postponement cause, ”

    I think he forgot about that and went straight to the default position of ‘opposing’.

    One day people will look back wrly smiling at the enormous tragedy of the silly civilzation who thought themselves so clever yet, aboured under the delusion their political leaders would ‘save the planet’. It is a completely irrational hope.

    Bring on the double dissolution.

  2. I’d love to see a double dissolution on this issue. On recent form though, I have strong doubts the government has the nerve to take that opportunity.

    Matthew, agree totally! Heh heh.

  3. would a double dissolution be averted if the government go to the top of their range 25%, if the Greens soften their stance on fossil fuel compensation, and if one Liberal senator crosses the floor?

  4. I think we already know that the Greens wouldn’t be willing to soften their stance, and I think the government is very unlikely to leap to the top end of their suggested emission cut range without any substantive global agreement also on the table. It will be interesting to observe how the politics of the government’s blocked ETS feed into this year’s election, particularly with Abbott still in denial and Turnbull still at large.

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