This morning the Greens launched a raft of amendments to improve the Government’s CPRS bill.
They involve higher targets — 25-40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2020; an industry compensation mechanism based on that proposed in the Garnaut Review, which involves compensating trade-exposed industries for the difference between their competitiveness under the scheme versus business-as-usual; a mechanism for tallying voluntary action and reducing emissions targets accordingly, and a far more rigorous process for imported carbon credits.
The voluntary action mechanism apart, they’re sensible and mean the Greens are currently the most economically-rational party on emissions trading.
If the Greens had two more senators, it would make for some fascinating negotiations with a Government tempted by the prospect of passage of a landmark bill, but incapable of resisting the rentseeking and whingeing of industry. Indeed, if there were two independent senators like Nick Xenophon, a deal might be possible involving the non-Coalition parties. Xenophon differs from the Greens on crucial points but some sort of mutually-acceptable position might be possible. That is, after all, what Xenophon does.
Steve Fielding’s climate scepticism and unreliability however, cruel that hope. He’s more likely to come into Parliament dressed as a smokestack than vote for the CPRS.
To counteract that, the Greens talk of a moderate Liberal like Judith Troeth crossing the floor to help pass the bill. Whatever the possibility of that, it is more likely with the Government’s polluter-friendly version than with the Greens economically-sensible version. The line looks a bit like the Greens trying to stay relevant to the debate. Nice try, guys.
They might be better off hoping a double dissolution election will deliver them the balance of power in the Senate, which indeed it might, although that will be too late to deliver a role on the CPRS, which would sail into law, and hopeless ineffectuality, in a joint sitting.
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Still, as a number of commentators on all sides have observed, the idea that the CPRS will be set in stone right from the get-go beggars belief. There will be opportunities to amend it, and the accompanying regulations.
Non-Parliamentary sections of the environmental movement, however, are not waiting for legislation. They’re resorting increasingly to direct action. The actions to halt production at coal mines in the Illawarra, part of the Climate Camp based at nearby Helensburgh on the weekend, certainly won’t be the last. There are plenty in the movement who think politics has failed them and that now is the time for direct action to halt emissions. The view is widely shared among young campaigners, who feel they have far more stake in the climate change debate than your average politician, who is unlikely to live to see the worst consequences of their inaction.
Don’t underestimate the sense of disillusionment and even anger among some young Australians, who don’t see this as an environmental issue but one of survival. The protests will become less peaceful, the actions more extreme and more disruptive, the longer politicians treat climate change as a playground for intra- and inter-party political games.