Every Australian knows that, if you have two credits cards, it is very bad management to pay off your debt on one of them by racking it up on the other.
Last night's Budget pulled down the national economic debt, but it continued the process of racking up our ecological debt.
Once again, the funds allocated to renewable energy, public transport and energy efficiency pale into insignificance next to the tens of billions to roads and the military.
The $652 million of new money to renewable energy, saved due to the decision not to even attempt negotiations with the Greens over a carbon pricing system will be welcomed by an industry which has been starved of funds for so long. Even since the Rudd government's election, the promise of new funding has still been just that – a promise. Virtually none of the Renewable Energy Development Fund has been spent, and the Solar Flagships were only short-listed last night.
Piecemeal subsidies to renewables will only mean we will import technologies from overseas – where they take renewables seriously as an alternative to coal – to supplement a handful of coal fired power plants with some solar power.
We won't see long-term jobs or manufacturing set up here unless we get a policy framework in place that will actually deliver a transformation – and that does not mean a CPRS which is designed to secure ongoing investment in coal. The Greens will be pushing hard in the Senate and the election campaign for some of those policies – such as a feed-in tariff for all renewable energy, a significant increase in the renewable energy target, loan guarantees for large-scale renewable energy developments and a levy on big polluters.
The missed opportunity is stark, and the cuts to on-the-ground environment programs from Landcare to green car innovation to water tanks will be devastating to thousands of people. But the biggest sting in the tail – the decision which is likely to have the most far-reaching implications – is the government's decision to incorporate their entire commitment to climate financing for developing nations into existing aid budget promises, instead of making it additional.
You may recall that one of the few rays of hope at last December's Copenhagen Conference was the commitment by rich nations to allocate some US$30 billion to a fast-start financing program to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate changes already locked in. The understanding at the conference was that this commitment would be additional to existing aid budgets – indeed additional to promised increases under the Millennium Development Goals.
Outgoing Secretary of the UN climate process, Yvo de Boer, has repeatedly warned this year that the key challenge this year is to rebuild trust between developed and developing nations. Just this week, de Boer warned
that if developed nations take their climate financing funds out of existing aid budgets it will be seen as "climate washing" and "not conducive" to that vital process of rebuilding trust. For a consummate diplomat like de Boer, this was very strong language.
The Rudd government has allowed domestic climate action to languish with yet another budget failure. But it has delivered an unforgivable blow to international climate negotiations at a time when we desperately need progress.
The Rudd government may think that racking up ecological debt in this way suits their short term political agenda, but it is not wise management for the future and it will not be appreciated by an electorate increasingly concerned about the impact of the climate crisis, extinctions and peak oil on their lives.