Polling released last week, as PM Julia Gillard announced the members of her government’s Carbon Pricing Climate Change Committee, showed that just 37% of Australians think it is very important to implement an ETS (or other carbon-pricing measures) to address climate change. When we consider the prominence of emissions trading in contemporary climate change policy debates in Australia, it is fair to say the measure is still struggling to win strong public support.
In dominant discourses, the phenomenon of climate change is constructed primarily as a pollution problem. The logical aim of domestic climate policy within this framing is to limit the amount of carbon “pollution” Australia emits. Carbon pricing is presented as the key policy initiative to achieve this end. This framework constructs the role of government as limited: it is responsible for setting carbon emissions targets and implementing carbon trading (or taxes) to create price signals to drive the transition to cleaner energy sources. Regardless of the ability of markets alone to achieve the decarbonisation needed to avoid dangerous climate changes, this is the prevailing wisdom.
The focus on climate change as a pollution problem obscures an alternative policy approach with greater potential to win public support than carbon pricing. In contrast to the pollution frame:
… the nation-building model provides Australians with a way of understanding the technological challenge at the heart of climate change. It also draws attention to the scale of engineering and can-do spirit required to transform the nation from a fossil-fueled economy to a renewable one. This approach will demonstrate the benefits of “green” jobs, making the concept a reality for thousands of Australians.
As I have argued previously:
We need a nation-building project on the scale of the Snowy Mountains Scheme to invest in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. This is the fresh approach needed to drive Australia’s transition towards a clean economy and protect the nation from dangerous climate change.
Unlike the pollution/carbon pricing frame that leaves decarbonisation to the invisible hand of the market, the nation-building approach emphasises the role of government in providing energy infrastructure. In the context of climate change, our government has the capacity — and responsibility — to use the common wealth of Australians to drive our transition to a renewable energy economy. In practice, our government would invest strategically in the research, development, demonstration, and deployment of clean technologies, with the objective of making them cheaper than fossil fuels.