So this is what a victory looks like. All around, environmentalists’ arguments about climate change are being embraced. Mel and Kochie’s move to back mass peaceful protest on the issue shows how breathtakingly fast and complete the turnaround has been.
But just as the debate is won, there are dangers that in Australia the Greens and the environment movement could lose the war.
Senator Bill Heffernan’s entry into the debate , seemingly siding with environmentalists, marked a dangerous turn. Heffernan is arguing that while climate change is real, the priority is not cutting emissions but helping farmers with more aid and assisting them to move North where there is more rainfall.
With the Government now desperate to be seen to be doing something on climate change, Howard can announce a series of farmer-friendly climate change packages in the run to the 2007 poll that pork-barrels a key constituency and sidelines the Greens.
In a sense Howard would be attempting to leapfrog environmentalists by moving beyond curing climate change to the “adaptation” phase with government providing “solutions” to the consequences of the greenhouse effect. Dennis Shanahan gave the PM’s plans a push along on Saturday when he declared that Howard wasn’t going Green, instead Howard was “browning the Greens”.
It is clear that the environment movement will need to be clever if they are to prevent Howard hijacking their good work with either a farmer friendly pitch or a nuclear push.
Part of the problem to date has been a failure in simple messaging. Some argue Kyoto is the answer, some want a carbon tax, others, “feed in laws”, some, carbon trading, and more people prioritise a renewable energy target.
Meanwhile the Government argues “technology” is the solution and offers the dangerous distraction of nuclear power while the coal industry tries the Orwellian phrase “clean coal”. With so many solutions being proposed – even from environmentalists – it is too easy for none of them to cut through.
But the real danger comes from within. Some in the environment movement will be tempted to settle with some small concessions from Howard. That would give huge environment credibility to the Government and result in a massive missed opportunity to achieve substantial change. With a tsunami in community concern occurring on climate change, now is not the time to settle for half measures.
While public protest on climate change has been lacking in the past, the big Walk Against Warming protests on 4 November around the country (now backed by Seven’s Sunrise ) mark the beginning of a new protest push that will help prevent Howard controlling the debate.
While this week’s $230m announcement coming from Howard regarding the low emissions fund is just the detail of previously announced cash, we are undoubtedly about to see a rash of new greenhouse policy announcements from state and Federal Governments and Oppositions.
When looking for tests to judge whether these policies match their rhetoric, some simple tests will need to be applied. Is there a commitment to legislation to guarantee emissions will be reduced by the 60-90% by mid century scientists say we need to avoid dangerous climate change? More importantly will there be a legislated medium term target of say 20% by 2020? Is there a strong renewable energy target? And finally is there a commitment to address coal exports which are by far Australia’s biggest contribution to global greenhouse emissions.
Unless the environment movement and the Greens keep these goals at the forefront of the debate it will mean that while the argument is won, the war was lost.