After months of build-up, the CPRS — what I call the Continue Polluting Regardless Scheme — is finally set to be voted on in the Senate this week. With the deadline looming, Prime Minister and Rudd Penny Wong are trying to convince Australians that the only choice is between their bill and no bill at all. As Bob Brown puts it in the TV message we launched yesterday, “that’s bunkum”.

The real choice is whether we do what it takes to stop the climate crisis or whether we lock in failure by sandbagging the old polluting economy instead of driving a real transformation.

The choice is whether we make the hard decisions required if we are to pass on a safe climate to our children, or whether we say it’s too hard, talk about a “balanced approach” and end up triggering catastrophic global heating because we thought we could bargain with the laws of physics and chemistry. We can’t.

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The CPRS locks in failure on the climate crisis with its inexcusably and unjustifiably weak targets and its $16 billion handouts to polluters. With this design, it will actively prevent Australian innovators and investors from building the zero carbon economy we need in order to thrive in the 21st century.

The fundamental reason for bringing in an emissions trading scheme is to make polluters pay for the pollution they cause and send a signal to investors and the community to move in a new direction. The CPRS certainly won’t make polluters pay, but it will send a signal. The problem is, that signal is in the wrong direction.

The CPRS sends a signal to polluters that they can Continue Polluting Regardless. They might be advised to make changes at the margins, but there will be no need to for wholesale change under the Rudd Government’s plans. The Government and Opposition are determined to artificially sandbag the coal sector and pretend to coal workers that they can be insulated from a transition to a zero carbon economy. It is cruel lie. Supporting a just transition to a jobs rich zero carbon economy is the only honest, innovative path to new jobs.

The CPRS sends a signal to investors that they should have confidence continuing to invest in polluting infrastructure. Indeed, Penny Wong has been at pains to point out that the design of the scheme is intended to give investors confidence to keep investing in coal. This is an extraordinarily short-sighted approach which will backfire on the Government economically as well as environmentally.

Gas power stations and slightly lower emissions coal power stations built as a result of the CPRS will end up as dirty and expensive white elephants in just a few years when we finally take on the emissions targets we should be working towards now. And in the meantime we will have lost even more of the innovators and skilled workers in renewable energy and energy efficiency whose jobs we are sending overseas with this polluters’ paradise approach.

The CPRS also sends a signal loud and clear to the Copenhagen negotiators: Australia under Rudd is not willing to play our fair and responsible role in the global climate effort. That signal was reinforced last week with Mr Rudd and Minister Wong ensuring that the communiqué from the Pacific Island Forum was watered down to remove any mention of the effective short-term emissions targets many small island states were calling for. Australia’s inexcusably weak targets make it less likely that Copenhagen will reach the kind of ambitious agreement we need in order to deliver a safe climate to our children.

CPRS or nothing assumes that alternative is nothing.

For those few who say we can pass this legislation now and improve later, I have one simple question: how?

The CPRS will lock in rising emissions until 2012, as well as an unacceptable emissions trajectory for as much as a decade beyond that missing the deadline set by scientists for global emissions to peak by 2015. If we reject that approach now and keep piling on the pressure, we can get truly effective action in place in the time before the CPRS would begin to do anything at all.

Protecting the forests, stopping land clearance, introducing a gross feed-in tariff for renewable energy, increasing the renewable energy target and setting ambitious energy efficiency goals can all be done immediately to great effect.

The Greens are there in Parliament arguing the case for meaningful action.

Without us, there is no chance this Government will deliver the kind of action we need to protect the climate.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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