When Greg Hunt declares that the Coalition is behind an emissions trading scheme, he’s either lying or he’s totally out of touch with his colleagues.

If the latter, today’s Australian must be humiliating for him. With Hunt having done The 7.30 Report and other media overnight and this morning stressing that not only was the Coalition supporting a trading scheme but they hadn’t even decided if transport should be in or out, The Oz  describes in gory details how Hunt’s colleagues want to significantly delay and weaken emissions trading.

It is clear that, regardless of the views of Malcolm Turnbull and Hunt, the Coalition has prepared a litany of reasons for it to back away from an emissions trading scheme. 2010 is too soon. We’ll send jobs offshore. Australia can’t solve climate change by itself. Petrol costs too much to include.

So to make life easier, Crikey is preparing a cut-out-and-keep guide to why the Coalition is hopelessly wrong. Next time you find yourself stuck at a party with a greenhouse denialist, or a Coalition MP pays a visit, or you find yourself on the bus next to Andrew Bolt, whip out this guide and have it ready for their specious arguments.

Australia’s emissions are tiny. We shouldn’t have an emissions trading scheme before other countries.

  1. So what? An emissions trading scheme is good economics regardless of whether other countries do it. Reducing carbon emissions is not some act of generosity. Carbon is inflicting damage on our environment and our economies. Currently we are not paying the cost of that damage, and therefore distorting our investment, consumption and production decisions. We apply the principle of “polluter pays” elsewhere in the economy — why not in relation to carbon?
  2. Major trading partners like Europe and New Zealand have emissions trading schemes already.
  3. Our emissions might be small in total but we are one of the highest per-capita emitters and major exporter of carbon-intense coal.

2010 is too soon. We need to wait.

  1. Any further delay creates more uncertainty and sovereign risk for business and investors.
  2. Because of the Coalition’s flatearther-like refusal to acknowledge global warming, we’ve already waited too long. The only scientifically credible dispute over global warming now is whether we’ll be totally stuffed in thirty years or fifty years. Every time the evidence is re-considered, the scenarios get worse. We don’t have time to wait.
  3. As Michael Hitchens of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network says, there’s no reason why the process of establishing an emissions trading scheme should take longer than the Government’s current timetable.
  4. If the economy is not in prime position to absorb the transition costs of a trading scheme now, when will it be? We have low unemployment, businesses screaming for more workers and a struggle to contain inflation. If there are economic impacts, when would be a better time?

A trading scheme will cause jobs in energy-intensive industries to “leak” jobs offshore.

  1. No it won’t. Building new facilities (e.g. an aluminium smelter) in non-trading countries requires massive investment, confidence in factors like political stability, and certainty that the destination country won’t impose a trading scheme or carbon tax for years.
  2. It leaking does occur, moving energy-intensive facilities to other countries might yield environmental benefits, given Australia’s reliance on carbon-intense coal for electricity generation.
  3. Energy-intensive industries form only a small part of the economy — less than 5% of jobs.
  4. Given the current skills shortage, other sectors would gratefully absorb any displaced workers.

Transport should not be included — it is better to regulate greater transport efficiency than make people pay more for fuel, because they can’t control their fuel usage.

  1. Price signals are nearly always more efficient — and that means cheaper — than regulation. Regulation is the command economy method of economic reform that doesn’t give consumers a choice about what they do but generates significant inefficiencies and higher costs for consumers and producers.
  2. Regulating for higher motor vehicle fuel efficiency won’t compel people to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles in the absence of incentives to do so. Fuel efficiency is much higher in countries with higher fuel costs than in the US and Australia.
  3. People can control their fuel usage if they have access to alternate means of transport. Our urban mass transit systems are already seeing significant increases in patronage. Greater investment in mass transit will provide more alternatives to car use.
  4. Omitting transport, or any other energy-intensive sector, will just mean a higher cost across all other sectors. There’s no free lunch — if the scheme is to be effective we have to pay one way or another.

But China and India aren’t doing anything.

  1. We’ve benefited from 200 years of carbon production. We have a moral obligation to acknowledge this, especially when we can afford to do it.
  2. The developed world accounts for 80% of carbon emissions. Our emissions trading scheme will strengthen our hand to argue that developing countries should join us in curbing carbon emissions. But waiting for China and India to do something about emissions will mean nothing will ever be done.

New technologies like geosequestration will fix everything.

  1. This is pipedream stuff. Assuming a new technology would somehow actually address carbon emissions (and geosequestration definitely will not), by the time it is developed, proven and implemented across the world economy it’ll be 2030 and we may be facing nightmare climate change scenarios.
  2. There’s a wide range of existing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that can be a large part of the solution, just waiting to be deployed here in Australia, as they are now being deployed in many parts of the world. But these won’t work in the absence of price signals to use them.

For more on arguing with a sceptic, consult Grist’s comprehensive How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.