It appears likely, although not certain, that the elevation of Tony Abbott to the leadership of the Liberal Party today rings the death knell for the Rudd Government’s failure of an emissions trading scheme.

The Government and its backers will no doubt attempt to brand this as a victory for climate scepticism. But I see it equally as a defeat of climate hypocrisy and a moment of hope that we may now be able to have a sensible debate about climate policy in Australia – a debate that has been stunningly absent in recent months.

Tony Abbott in his press conference today distanced himself from climate scepticism. He noted that climate change is real, that we humans play a role in it, and that the debate is over the mechanism we choose to deal with it. We can, of course, safely assume that any mechanism Mr Abbott eventually proposes will be unacceptably weak on the science and will unfairly allocate the burden of action to the community instead of the polluters.

But that is the ground on which this debate should be being fought – not action vs inaction, but what kind of action. The “will they won’t they” politics of the CPRS prevents that debate from being heard.

Let’s reflect briefly once again on the CPRS itself.

The Government has always been keen to frame this as a question of action vs inaction on climate change, but even they, in their now almost certainly defunct negotiations with the Liberal Party, agreed that there comes a point when action is so weak that it becomes functionally equivalent to inaction. The Greens and the majority of environmentalists in Australia believe that that point was passed long ago.

But this scheme goes beyond weak – it will actually take Australia in the wrong direction. As Citi Investment Research director Elaine Prior told ABC Inside Business on Sunday:

“One of the things that the package has done is provided more surety for the coal-fired generators to keep generating until roughly 2020 or beyond. So one might say in that sense that it’s on the one hand created more stability in the electricity market, but perhaps reduced the urgency for people to look at change.”

Between the woefully weak targets and the handouts and free permit allocation overwhelmingly skewed towards sandbagging existing industry, the scheme as designed would have undermined our ability to negotiate a meaningful deal in Copenhagen, and unleash a bonanza of investment in coal.

The CPRS would have been the national equivalent of a person changing a couple of lightglobes at home while cranking the air conditioner. The small action might make them feel good, but the overwhelming impact is still negative.

We have the opportunity to reject that choice today by voting down the CPRS. Once we get that flawed proposition off the table, it gives us the opportunity to put the debate back where it belongs – on the fundamental question of how we address the climate crisis. The Greens relish that opportunity. We are ready to give our all to that end.

Peter Fray

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