I’m walking down a dusty road on the outskirts of the old citadel in Damascus, Syria. Lugging my backpack and avoiding donkeys, taxis and potholes in the road, I suddenly come across a patch of green. It’s a garden – about as big as three suburban sized Aussie backyards put together – and it’s filled with labelled herbs, flowers, shrubs, saplings and trees. I read the sign out the front: it’s a project of the Syrian Environment Association, an organisation educating Syrians about environmental issues. The garden aims to reconnect the community with nature and also has a café attached to raise funds for the group.

Their most high-profile campaign is the protection and rehabilitation of the Barada River, but they’re kicking other goals too, like a national clean-up campaign, strong advocacy for reforestation, and a competition for young people to design climate change adaptation projects.

I drink some sweet black tea at their café. It’s overpriced for Syria, but it’s supporting an environmental NGO so I’m happy, and as I drink my tea I think about the fact that despite coming across this garden by chance, in a country not at all renowned for environmentalism, I’m not surprised.

Why? Because for at least four years now, it’s been very clear that every community, state, territory and nation in the world has dedicated people, organisations and departments both in Government and in civil society, who are making extraordinary efforts to reduce carbon pollution globally.

With the eyes of the world on the United Nations climate negotiations in Cancun, it’s a good opportunity for Australians to take a look at what’s happening globally to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

After the UN talks in Copenhagen a year ago, we saw a concerted effort from Tony Abbott and his climate denier cronies to create an attitude in the community that the rest of the world wasn’t acting on climate change. This couldn’t be further from the truth – which is why Copenhagen’s collapse was so frustrating!

Every country on this planet (ok, perhaps apart from Saudi Arabia) is doing something domestically – and many bilaterally and multilaterally – to address climate change. Closing our eyes to rest of the world’s efforts and chanting “no one else is doing anything, no-one else is doing anything” simply doesn’t make it true.

The Australian Department of Climate Change recently put together a paper comparing the current climate change targets and policies in key countries, called ‘Status of Global Mitigation Action’. Here’s an extract from the executive summary:

“Many developed countries have introduced, or are seriously considering introducing, market based measures to help meet their emissions reduction targets.

The European Union emissions trading scheme has been in place since 2005. It covers over 11,500 energy-intensive installations, representing around half of Europe’s emissions of carbon dioxide. Twenty seven EU countries plus three non-EU members of the European Economic Area participate in the scheme.[i]

The New Zealand emissions trading scheme commenced for forestry in January 2008 and stationary energy, transport, liquid fossil fuels and industrial processes on 1 July 2010.[ii]

The South Korean Environment Ministry initiated a trial ETS in January 2010, to operate until 2012. The scheme covers around 640 installations. Further, South Korea passed the Basic Act on Green Growth in December 2009, which stipulates the introduction of a mandatory ETS. South Korea expects its ETS regulations to be ready by September 2010, with its ETS to start in 2012.[iii]

Japan’s government is expected to consider the Basic Act on Global Warming Countermeasures in January 2011.[iv] The Basic Act includes an emissions trading scheme, carbon tax, and feed-in tariff measures. The bill was passed by the Japanese lower house in May 2010, however, before the upper house could consider bill the Government called an upper house election in July.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have carbon taxes of various forms currently in place; several of these schemes have been operating since the early 1990s.  [v] [vi] [vii] [viii]

Developing countries are also investigating carbon or energy pricing – India has implemented a coal tax to fund research and development on renewable energy technologies[ix]; and South Africa plans to release a discussion paper on a carbon tax at the end of this year. [x]

The paper goes on…and on. It’s a long one, because there’s so much to report on. Like the Scottish government’s target to source 80% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020, or Denmark’s carbon tax of 13 euros per tonne, first introduced in 1992 whilst John Howard was still denying climate change even existed!

One of the largest sections is about China’s policies – covering energy efficiency, transport, agriculture, forestry, renewable energy, and reducing coal-fired power emissions. For example, China is starting to replace its old, inefficient polluting power stations – that’s their equivalents of Victoria’s Hazelwood and NSW’s Bayswater power stations. The Chinese Government set a target to shutdown 50 GW of small, inefficient generation capacity, and achieved it by mid 2009, retiring 54.07 GW.

By 2011, China plans to close all plants below 50 MW of capacity, and old plants below 100 MW. Between 2011 and 2020, many plants between 100 and 200 MW will also be closed.  As a result, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2011, 80 percent of China’s coal-fired power plants will be modern plants above 300 MW in capacity and this number will rise above 90 percent by 2020.

There’s a lot happening out there in the world that Australians have been deceived about by the “the world isn’t acting, Australia shouldn’t lead” line. It’s a blatant lie and one that should be completely shattered by the time the Cancun negotiations are over, so we can get on with setting an effective carbon price as the Government’s number one priority in 2011.

With the cricket season now in full swing, let’s get some of that Aussie pride to work in the area of reducing carbon pollution. So c’mon Aussie c’mon – let’s start catching up with the rest of the world. We still have time to fight climate change, cut pollution and have a good chance of maintaining clean air, soil and water our generation and those to come.

These references are pasted from the Department of Climate Change’s afforementioned paper:

[i] See generally the European Commission’s relevant web pages at:  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/emission/index_en.htm.

[ii] See generally http://www.climatechange.govt.nz/emissions-trading-scheme/

[iii] United Nationals Environment Programme, 2010, Overview of the Republic of Korea’s National Strategy for Green Growth, April 2010

[iv] Government of Japan, Ministry of the Environment,http://www.env.go.jp/en/earth/cc/bagwc/overview_bill.pdf, accessed 1 November 2010.

[v] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Economic/Fiscal Instruments: Taxation (i.e., Carbon/Energy), Annex I Expert Group on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Working Paper No. 4, 1997, p.31, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/36/50/2392474.pdf.

[vi] Carbon Tax Center, ‘Where Carbon is Taxed’, at http://www.carbontax.org/progress/where-carbon-is-taxed/, accessed 1 November 2010.

[vii] Stefan Speck (2008), ‘The Design of Carbon and Broad-based Energy Taxes in European Countries’, in Journal of Environmental Law, Volume 10 (2008), 31 – 60, at p.50

[viii] Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library, “Swiss Emissions Trading Scheme”, at http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/ClimateChange/governance/foreign/swiss.htm accessed 1 November 2010

[ix] Government of India, Ministry of Finance, Notification No. 01 /2010-Clean Energy Cess, 22 June 2010 http://www.coal.nic.in/cbec140710.pdf

[x]PB Sonjica, ‘Speech on the Department of Environmental Affairs 2010/11 financial year budget vote’, South African parliament, 16 April 2010, available at http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2010/10041615451001.htm, accessed 26 October 2010.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey