Yesterday, along with a copy of High & Dry, I lodged a submission with the Garnaut Review warning that most of the agenda of Australia’s worst polluting industries — our self-dubbed greenhouse mafia —remains intact, notwithstanding Garnaut’s relatively positive Interim Report.

It is important to appreciate how that polluter agenda has adapted to the new political environment. In the past, preventing Australia from acting was the simplest way to delay emission cuts by our worst polluting sectors. It used to be easy—John Howard was an enthusiastic captive of the carbon lobby. In recent times, however, inaction by Australia has become much harder, so our greenhouse mafia have had to come up with a more sophisticated approach that focusses on delaying emission cuts by their sectors.

The new agenda is more complex, but much more stealthy because it hinges on the fine print of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) slated to come into effect in 2010. This is unfamiliar territory to most politicians, the media, and many environmentalists, not to mention the public. Which is why polluters are now frantically lobbying to embed into the ETS design a mix of compensation and carve-out provisions, along with options to ‘outsource’ emission reduction obligations (largely) offshore — before the government, the media, or the public cottons on to the real agenda.

If they succeed, it’s conceivable that progress towards the deep emissions cuts flagged by the Rudd government could be said to be ‘on track’ for at least another decade without Australia’s worst polluting sectors lifting a finger. Sound familiar? It should—it would be a political trick similar to the one used since 1997, whereby reductions in land clearing enabled Australia to say it was not just ‘on track’ to meeting its Kyoto target, but ‘leading the world’.

The emission cuts, meanwhile, would be made by other sectors of the economy not given compensation or carve-outs, by other countries generating carbon credits (some through very dubious means), and of course, by consumers. It will be interesting to see how much of this new agenda is still intact tomorrow, but much more interesting will be to see what the Rudd government does with this agenda later in the year.

Oh, and if you needed any proof that the greenhouse mafia is still kicking just as strongly as ever, have a look at Matt Warren’s latest greenhouse mafia-friendly piece in The Australian. Surprise, surprise! The oil and gas industry (through APPEA) has commissioned polluter consultant of choice (CRA International) to do a paper saying Labor’s MRET will cost $1.5 billion and hammer consumers, then Warren gets the scoop on the story.

Readers of High & Dry will appreciate the politics behind this ol’ favourite backline move out of the greenhouse mafia playbook. Different government, same old players, same old tactics—I suppose it’s worth a try. The APPEA line is that an MRET is costly and unnecessary—that an ETS would do the trick. That argument would be more credible if they were to repudiate all the loopholes they’re concurrently seeking in the ETS—they could start by advocating a strong limit on the use of carbon credits generated offshore?

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