Until recently Brendan Nelson argued that Australia should not get too far in front of other countries in the battle to control carbon pollution but rather, that we should await an effective global treaty, agreed to by China and India, before introducing our own pollution control.

There are still many politicians and members of the public who believe that this is an appropriate course of action. In fact it’s deeply flawed thinking.

Anyone who is waiting for developing nations to agree to a target for a reduction in their emissions will be disappointed in the short-to-medium term. Many such countries are starved of electricity, and for some time must source it from wherever they can get it.

China’s situation highlights their general dilemma. With a population growing at a million per month, and economic growth running at nearly 10% per annum, demand growth for electricity is unstoppable. There is just no way that old coal-fired plant can be decommissioned at any scale under these circumstances. Furthermore, emissions per person is tiny compared with our own.

The only practical option at present is for the developed world to decarbonise as swiftly as it can while allowing China’s per capita emissions to grow until they have reached an agreed point, after which they must fall along with ours.

The nonsense of the Nelson view is even more starkly evident if you picture yourself at the negotiating table in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Can you imagine anyone taking Australia seriously, as we argue for global reductions, if we’ve done nothing to limit our emissions? Under those circumstances we’d have no chance at all of playing a positive role in the negotiations.

The truth is that our authority will be proportional to our efforts to limit our pollution. Our Prime Minister could be a critical player on the global stage in Copenhagen, but only in Australia’s carbon pollution reduction scheme promises to be bitingly effective and poised to take off by December 2009.

Peter Fray

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