Conditional and unconditional targets

There’s been a striking divide in reactions to the government’s changes to the ETS, with most of the major environmental groups supporting it, while the Greens (and most commenters here) seeing only negatives. The headline change (a one-year delay in the start date) is so minor that it’s not worth discussing, but it seems to have set the tone for a lot of responses. And some responses have taken it for granted that the government is acting in bad faith, but on that assumption, there is no point in arguing the specifics of policy.

Coming to substantive issues, a major complaint appears to be that the unconditional target of a 5 per cent reduction is not enough. Those making this complaint seem to me to be influenced by an error that’s the mirror-image of the doolittle-delay claim that, since Australia only accounts for 2 per cent of global emissions, we may as well do nothing.

The element of truth in the doolittle-delay line is that, in the absence of a global agreement, the planet is done for. That means that, when offering a conditional and an unconditional target, the crucial requirement for a defensible policy is a conditional target consistent with a global agreement to stabilise the climate. The unconditional target is important only insofar as it helps to achieve such an agreement, and a higher unconditional target is not necessarily a better one.

There’s room for argument over the 25 per cent target, but
(i) it seems consistent with a path leading to 60-90 per cent reductions by 2050
(ii) relative to the Kyoto targets it’s as large as anyone else is offering,
On this point it seems to me that the government’s position that the Kyoto targets should provide the starting point is more convincing than the European preference for 1990. Of course, both are self-serving, but that’s the way international negotiations tend to go.

As regards the unconditional target, it needs to be sufficient to show that we are willing to take some pain without waiting for everyone else to move first, but also far enough below the unconditional target to make it a credible bargaining chip. If I had to pick a number I’d probably go for 10, but it really doesn’t make much difference if it’s 5 or 15.

Coming back to Australian political choices on this, it’s hard to see how rejecting this proposal, as opposed to trying for some amendments, can possibly be a good idea for anybody. Whatever the short term politics, the conservatives will pay a big price in the long term for their consistent sabotage. As for the Greens, how will things look for them if the government goes to Copenhagen with no ETS and no alternative plan, and if our failure contributes to a similar failure at the global level? And if Fielding provides the swing vote against (I think Xenophon will be OK), there can be no option but a double dissolution to wipe out the consequences of the disastrous Labor preference deal that put him into Parliament in the first place.

60 thoughts on “Conditional and unconditional targets

  1. Sigh, it’s hopeless. I’m not going post about this issue anymore. We are already at or past the point of no return and people are still playing delaying games.

  2. Professor Quiggan, That’s a pretty solid assessment of the situation.

    Seems to me that on the politics side, the greens (small g which encompasses the big G) are taking their frustrations out on Rudd and Wong when they are realistically the only politicians actually putting forward a credible pathway to real cuts (as opposed to wishful ones). For those arguing that action is too late, place the blame where it lies, at the feet of the last Government and George Bush who delayed the early action that was necessary – as Prof Q notes, an extra year at this stage won’t make any difference provided we have a real target. Any action is better than no action. Ideal action is simply not going to materialise and if the politics of the Libs and Greens is to wait for ideal policy, nothing will get done and it really will be too late and the blame will lay at their feet as well.

  3. Did anyone really think Labour would do anything different? After Iemma got done over by fossillised union interests in NSW the writing was on the wall for any Federal Laour response other than capitulation with a lot of deniable plausibility to weasel with.

  4. I think it needs to be restated that Australia is not just a casual onlooker in all of this. We are the world’s biggest coal exporter and we have the largest uranium reserves. We have half a century of natural gas and coal seam methane unlike say the UK or US. All this with just 0.3% of the world population.

    However like the US we also have per capita emissions over 25 tonnes a year and a growing oil import dependence. Also like the US I suggest Australia has soft power through sport and entertainment. Our droughts and firestorms are highlighted in international news reports perhaps because Australia is seen as a country to be admired. Surely if any country can give leadership on climate change it is us.

    In my opinion Rudd has balked at the first small hurdle and Turnbull is a low grade opportunist. Neither deserve to be re-elected. The fingers will be pointing with the next set of bad climate news from anywhere in the world.

  5. I’ll make a point (possibly) consistent with Ikonoclast. I find the political shenanigans re ETS or whatever more or less irrelevent. Obviously what Australia does has no substantive impact on CO2 levels unless we withdraw coal exports. It might have a symbolic function but I doubt it. However the engagement with the politics of levels acts as a diversion from the areas where Australia can have an impact – research and development of alternative energy supplies/efficient technologies/appropriate technologies/land use patterns and technologies/ etc etc.
    So far the current Ruddites show no interest at all in increasing funding to higher education or research or anything else that can give us the opportunity to make a substantive contribution to a sustainable future. Instead we get a conservative version of Blair-down-under. That’s a shame because we, like other developed countries, can make a contribution with appropriate support.

  6. I’m not sure why you think that having a legislated ETS is a necessary precondition to negotiating at Copenhagen. The government gets to negotiate at the UN, the Senate doesn’t.

    How many other major treaties or negotiations have been preceded by all the parties pre-empting the outcome and legislating what they think should or want to happen?

    The UK is the only country so far to legislate cuts and I doubt most countries will by the time we come to Copenhagen. Because it’s not necessary.

    Wong’s suggestion (explicit in your post) that if the Copenhagen talks fail, or if Australia isn’t taken seriously, it’s The Greens fault is an absolute joke.

  7. The headline change (a one-year delay in the start date) is so minor that it’s not worth discussing

    Howard delayed (and denied) for 11 years, one year at time, year after year.

    This year it will be “we can’t hurt consumers and businesses in a recession”
    Next year it will be “we can’t do something that will threaten the fragile recovery”
    The year after that it will be “energy prices are too high already”

    There’s always an excuse, no matter what the economic circumstances.

    And some responses have taken it for granted that the government is acting in bad faith

    Yes, they’re acting in bad faith, but you criticise the Greens who are the only ones acting in good faith. The Greens may be critical of the ETS legislation, but I’d be astonished if they voted against it, even if the target was 5%.

  8. John, yesterday in Prague the EU & Japan issued a joint statement recognizing the “significance” of a 25-40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for industrialized countries by 2020. This is a major breakthrough in trying to reach a universal agreement on climate change later this year in Copenhagen.

  9. J Quiggin said “…the conservatives will pay a big price in the long term for their consistent sabotage. As for the Greens, how will things look for them if the government goes to Copenhagen with no ETS and no alternative plan, and if our failure contributes to a similar failure at the global level?”

    On the first sentance, I sincerely hope they do pay a big price and think they probably will even though some unintended good has come out of that sabotage.

    The second is simply a question but it is a question the Government has made to sound like a statement that puts the Greens to blame if the Copenhagen talks fail.

    In fact, that question seeks to blame anybody but the Government if they go to Copenhagen without a plan.

    It may wash in the case of the Conservatives because of past misdeeds but I think a DD over this issue will only do the Greens good.

    Yep, my gut feeling is bring on the double dissolution. Australia will be better off without Fielding. The Greens and Nick X will be a genuine conscience as opposed to the blundering Libs.

  10. I don’t blame the Greens in any of this. I do (partly) blame ALP, blame business short-termism, and (mostly) blame the Liberal party. Robert Hill and John Howard scotched Kyoto all those years ago and here we are now with a tough economy and out of time to implement a real reduction in greenhouse gase emissions.

    At least with a 25% conditional target ETS is the start of something. At 5% fudging of figures is too easy, as well as being almost an insult to other countries come Copenhagen. At least Labor had the guts to run with this as far as they have.

    Recently, given the money thrown out to all and sundry as permits, I have wondered whether there would be a case for the government to a) ban any new coal-fired stations outright and, b) buy up at least one coal-fired stations per year to decommission and replace with wind/solar/gas/geothermal/etc. It seems like it would be a better deal initially than chucking billions of dollars into subsidising further pollution.

  11. Isn’t Australia an immaterial number when looking at world wide emissions? Doesn’t that mean that we can have swingeing cuts in our emissions but it will have little or no beneficial impact?

  12. SeanG, there are three important reasons to come up with emissions cuts.

    The first is so we can credibly negotiate at Copenhagen and get the best possible outcome.

    The second is that developing countries have quite rightly pointed out that if a rich country like Australia can’t cut their emissions, how should they expect poor countries(even if they emit more in total)?

    The third point is that even though Australia’s emissions individually are only 1.5% of global emissions, if you add up all the countries with that proportion or less you get 30% of total emissions. That’s a very significant number and we shouldn’t simply say that it can’t be cut.

  13. Can someone please explain to me how this policy that imposes a severe financial burden on our community, is going to change global temperatures (please quantify)? What impact if any will it have on the claimed climate crisis (please quantify)? ?

    I suppose when your science doesn’t quantify these things it doesn’t matter

  14. Oz,

    If we cut our emissions, will that mean China, India and other developing nations will also cut theirs?

  15. tony G: As our gracious host has pointed out, Australia acting on its own will make SFA difference. However, it matters in terms of getting a global deal if we are prepared to play our part; furthermore, per person, Australia’s emissions are very large, so in that sense it’s extremely important that we do our part.

    If we were to get a global deal for 450ppm, it would have very substantial impacts on the global climate compared to business as usual.

    If you want quantification, have a look at chapter 5 of the Garnaut review. It’s not the latest modeling, but it’s illustrative of the big differences between no mitigation at all, 550ppm, and 450ppm.

  16. Donald #11, on your points a) and b), I would bet that the Government would not have seriously thought about such positive options let alone explored laterally from them even if they had been presented.

    I wonder if they’re open to some new and positive thinking in which case the one year delay could be a good thing.

  17. This CPRS is a sham of a policy that rewards the biggest polluters and hurts individuals.

    Australia is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide per capita in the world. We ought to be committing unconditionally to more of a cut than 5% of 2000 levels by 2020. A 25% cut of 2000 levels by 2020 is still lower than the minimum 25% cut of 1990 levels being argued by many around the world. It is also not consistent, according to the scientists, with stabilising the atmosphere at 450PPM.

    They have tinkered with the numbers and some people are getting fooled. The Australian Government is talking about the reductions based on 2000 levels whilst the rest of the world is talking about 1990 levels. It is irresponsible and uneccessary that the government is imposing a maximum as low as 25% by 2000 levels whilst other countries are considering higher targets.

  18. Prof Q, I agree wholeheartedly.
    People seem to forget that the Government is trying to get its legislation through a hostile Senate. The notion that the CPRS, as is, will be ‘worse than nothing’ is just nonsense – at this stage any policy which can begin to drive down emissions, by whatever amount, is better than nothing. There is no doubt that more drastic action will be required down the track (and probably not too far down it) but taking stronger action at this stage is. politically. impossible.
    The Greens are able to take the purist stance because they know they can have no influence on the outcome, thanks to Fielding. I am sure that if their vote actually counted in this instance, they would be taking a different stance (and so would the Government).
    All this wailing and tearing of garments seems like little more than sanctimonious grandstanding to me.

  19. Not much to say here. Don’t agree with Dave 55, Tim Macknay; ecology is NOT a joke- Rome burns while the political and corporate Neros fiddle.
    Just reading Norman Abjorensen, 5/5 at ‘Inside Story'(Swinburn); “Theirs or Ours”, which proposes that;
    ” The federal government’s reversal on climate change is another example of the corporate colonisation of society”.
    And so it goes.

  20. This is an ALL or NOTHING issue, JQ, particularly at this stage. Because this

    http://www.newscientist.com/articleimages/mg20126971.700/1-how-to-survive-the-coming-century.html

    is the outcome of doing less than everything possible….now.

    So have the balls to say we should do nothing. Because given the tone of global attitudes devatastion is a certainty. It is only a matter of how soon. Get out there and enjoy yourself. Why make life difficult with an ineffectual half baked system that guarantees ultimate disaster? Do all of the air travel you possibly can while there is still oil to do it with. See all of the beautiful places while they still exist.

  21. And here is the other reason to party now

    http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5239#more

    If there is any substance in this evaluation, everything is going to run out in 50 years.

    On that basis there is a supportable argument that we should force catastrophy sooner rather than later to better support the human species (at the expense of every other) over the longer period. By reducing the human population to 10% of the current, there is a better prospect for the species to thrive in the longer term. The Borg would understand. This is perhaps where the Coalition are coming from with their policies.

  22. “…the crucial requirement for a defensible policy…”

    ..is that the policy actually gets implemented. It is pointless having a great policy that will never become legislation.

    Failure to get agreement between the parties is why we are in this situation.

    Place the blame where you choose:

    1. On the coalition for not offering or accepting a compromise
    2. The government, for being inept negotiators
    3. The Greens and the independent senators for either pushing too hard (greens) or else unpredictable and difficult to negotiate with (the others), thus requiring the government to water down the policy so as to grasp at the chance of support from the coalition
    4. all of the above.

    Part of me just acknowledges that it is a tough political environment to negotiate such a contentious policy.

    But when I give it some thought, I mainly want to blame the government. Rudd is the leader, he needs to act like one. That means taking the other parties with him. He is the leader not just of the ALP, but of Australia.

    If the other parties don’t want to play, he should show some leadership and call a double dissolution on the issue – that is, if he really thinks it is an important issue.

    I doubt he will do that, and I doubt his leadership qualities, and I doubt his commitment on the issue. And while blaming the coalition might work for the government, the blame game is about retaining power, not about being effective.

  23. The trouble with a DD is simple – the polluters will put massive funding into a FUD campaign. And FUD works.

    On the substantive policy, given that we need to reach a given endpoint, and given that the hour is very late, ANY further delay in starting makes the soope of the line needed to reach that endpoint increase disproportionately. Which will, of course, greatly bolster the pain in – and hence the political opposition to – aiming at that endpoint. The delay is by no means innocuous – why do you think the polluters pushed for it so hard?

  24. If a 25% target is on the table in Copenhagen, then even though it is conditional, we have options and are due some consideration by other nations. So I hope this version becomes enacted.

    As a follow-up on the idea of government purchase and decommissioning of coal-fired power stations: the coal used is usually local to the station, and is generally brown (IIRC). Therefore, shutting down such a station and the supplying mine won’t necessarily affect our coal export trade in the short to medium term.
    Rather than subsidising coal-fired stations, the government could make the deal: we buy you outright, or you take your chances in the ETS marketplace and buy your permits on the open market (no subsidy). After the first couple of stations are replaced, both business and government will have a more accurate knowledge of the cost of replacement with alternative energy. As an additional effect, it should focus the executive minds on how to do an orderly exit from the coal-fired energy business, rather than simply lobbying and delaying.

  25. TonyG: the science does quantify the effects, but as a probability distribution of system responses to a given change of control (ie change in the human component of greenhouse gas contribution rate). To expect more than a probability distribution, ie to expect a single number, is not quantification but a demand for the impossible. Even Plimer is having a lend of you, as regards impossible accuracy, when he states that the world began on that Thursday 4,560 million years ago.

  26. I disagree with you John. There is almost no possibility of a consensus at Copenhagen, so it is the conditional target that does not matter.

  27. I see.

    Because the goverment has let itself be captured by a select handful of powerful business interests rather than leap-frogging them with decent policy & utilisation of the surplus for building a green economy, has failed to find a way to bring other Senators on board, and did an appalling preference deal the election before last to put Fielding in power, it’s all the Greens’ fault we have a complete basket-case of an ETS as our ‘best’ option on the table.

    I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

  28. Tim Macknay @ 21:

    Prof Q, I agree wholeheartedly.
    People seem to forget that the Government is trying to get its legislation through a hostile Senate.

    So fix the Senate with DD election.

    derrida derider @ 26:

    The trouble with a DD is simple – the polluters will put massive funding into a FUD campaign. And FUD works.

    No-one is more cynical than me about the prospects of decent ETS legislation getting up in this country, but even I can’t see a FUD campaign from big polluters making much of dent in the ALP/Green vote right now.

  29. “ecology is NOT a joke”

    I never said nor implied that, Paul. That is a perfect example of the sort of sanctimonious grandstanding I am talking about.

    Carbonsink: well, a DD is certainly one option. What the result would be is unclear. I certainly hope that the next election, whether DD or otherwise, results in a Senate more conducive to the passage of good policy. I’m not as sanguine as you on how it will turn out.

    But one thing seems certain at this stage: the CPRS legislation will not pass the current Parliament. So all the fretting from its opponents, of both green and brown varieties, seems irrelevant.

  30. By ‘Paul’ I meant Paul Walter @ 22, not Paul Norton @ 32.

  31. I feel that the economic negatives of the ETS are being overstated. Carbon pricing signals are an opportunity for Australia to encourage innovation in alternative technologies. This will be crucial for us in decreasing our dependence on resources and primary industry for knowledge intensive/export oriented jobs, decreasing our own reliance on dwindling oil resources, and to drive ‘knowledge economy’ employment.
    My hope is that these price signals evolve and become stronger faster, and that other innovation support initiatives are put in place, to maximise this process.

  32. BilB at #23
    “See all of the beautiful places while they still exist.”

    I’ll be alright Jack.
    I was given Attenborough’s 15 DVD pack of “Life on Land’ for my birthday last week.
    So in a very few years I can sit and watch in the comfort of my living room on a TV set what once used to exist in reality outside.

    Sad about the grandkids tho’.

  33. Donald Oats @ 28

    “To expect more than a probability distribution, ie to expect a single number”

    Don, the probability of the value falling within a particular interval will do if that is all you have got, but don’t forget that is reducing AGW theorem to a random variable. (Don’t Bayesians assign probabilities to any statement whatsoever?)

    So to amend my above post to suite the random nature of AGW theory;

    Can someone please explain to me how this policy that imposes a severe financial burden on our community, is going to change global temperatures (please give a value falling within a particular interval )? What impact if any will it have on the claimed climate crisis (please give a value falling within a particular interval )?

  34. I totally agree, John.

    It’s time for green groups to stop pushing for some kind of theoretically ideal scheme and realise that this is as good as it’s going to get. The Australian Greens, in particular, need to realise that their absolutism has only made them irrelevant in these negotiations. If they want to have a positive effect on Australia low carbon future, they need to come down from the mountain.

    More here:
    http://everythingischanging.wordpress.com/2009/05/06/emissions-trading-its-time-to-support-it/

  35. “If they want to have a positive effect on Australia low carbon future”

    Except the current ETS doesn’t ensure any such thing. Try again.

    Myriad @ 30 has easily made the most illuminating post on this topic. Using The Greens as scapegoats to mask Labor’s short-sightedness and capitulation to the carbon lobby is a joke.

    Yeah everyone, The Greens forced Labor to meet with Woodside and their like dozens of times when drafting the bill. The Greens forced former carbon lobbyists to become Labor MP’s. The Greens forced high ranking Labor party hacks to become lobbyists.

  36. fred watching your DVDs will be uncomfortably like the death chamber scene in the movie Soylent Green. I won’t be eating any green rice crackers for a while.

  37. Thats a great minds think alike scenario Hermit cos when I watched the first few DVDs I had a clear image of Edward G Robinson dying in front of the IMAX style screen showing the former beauty of the Earth.
    Sort of life copying ‘art’ eh?

  38. Tim Macknay @ 33

    But one thing seems certain at this stage: the CPRS legislation will not pass the current Parliament. So all the fretting from its opponents, of both green and brown varieties, seems irrelevant.

    .
    I agree 100%, so what are we waiting for, lets have an election!

    Malcolm doesn’t stand a chance, Fielding will be out, and the Greens and ALP will both pick up a few seats in the Senate. The result will either be an ALP majority or the Greens holding the balance of power.

  39. I totally agree with John that the conditional target is far more important than the unconditional target, and that the conditional target should be much stronger than the unconditional target.

    I don’t think a 25% reduction on 2000 levels is an appropriate target for Australia as part of a 450 ppm CO2-e agreement. Garnaut suggested this target, based on two things:

    1. a global emissions trajectory which is 29% higher than 2000 levels in 2020 and 50% lower than 2000 levels in 2050;

    2. an agreement where countries converge to being allocated an equal amount of per-capita emissions in 2050.

    After reading the recent “climate crunch” issue of Nature, I have my doubts about whether this global trajectory would be consistent with 450 ppm. I like the contraction and convergence approaches to allocating emissions between different countries, but I don’t think a 2050 convergence date is equitable or acceptable to low per-capita emitters.

  40. I C I’m to be lumped in, concerning a myth based on the falsest of false dichotomies, concerning “Green Intransigence” whereby anything proposed a) in line even remotely with the science; b) dares even hint at a challenge to a lazy business as usual or some inconsiderate at the very concept, request for even the consideration of adaptation to reality from the well-fed citizenry of our civilisation, is dismissed as “unreasonable”.
    I’d go with Fred’s scenario of at least a six pack of Attenboroughs in the comfort of my living room ( in preference to a cave, beleive it or not! ).
    But as others above have mentioned, the worst case scenario indicates we, or the next generations we so so callously rob now for slothful, greedy, lazy personal gratification, could eventually not even have that option.
    Happy breathing!

  41. Steve at 25 says: “If the other parties don’t want to play, he (Rudd) should show some leadership and call a double dissolution on the issue – that is, if he really thinks it is an important issue.”
    Steve you are undone by faint knowledge of constitutional reality. Prime Ministers just cannot call double dissolutions when it suits them (and thank goodness for that safeguard).
    Before a double dissolution, there are constitutional conditions that have to be met – the most important of which is that the legislation has been rejected twice by the Senate.
    As yet, the Senate has not had any CPRS legislation before it to reject.
    As an aside, that is why many believe the Government is intent on introducing the legislation in the Budget session of Parliament (starting next week), even though any scheme would not start until 2011. If the legisation is rejected by the Senate, then the Government can introduce it again later this year and if it is rejected again, then the Government would have the Constitutional right to ask the Governor-General for a double dissolution. That probably means the earliest any double dissolution election could be held would be around October.
    My own view is that the Government would not consider a double dissolution until it knows the results of the Copenhagen talks in December.
    So Steve and all the others who critcise the Government for not calling an immediate double dissolution, it may pay you to know what you are talking about.
    As to those who fear a massive campaign by the big polluters in any double dissolution campaign, there is the countervailing fact that large business groups would be seen as hypocrites by supporting the present proposals and going against them within 12 months.
    A massive campaign by big polluters could also be self-defeating.

  42. The fine print in the conditions for Australia to agree to a 25% net reduction include:

    # advanced economy reductions, in aggregate, of at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020;
    # major developing economy commitments to slow growth and to then reduce their absolute level of emissions over time, with a collective reduction of at least 20% below business-as-usual by 2020 and a nomination of a peaking year for individual major developing economies

    This is more generous for developed countries, and less generous for developing countries, than Garnaut’s proposal which was for developed countries to reduce their emissions by 29% compared to 2001 levels by 2020, and developing countries to reduce their emissions by 11% compared to business as usual, China to reduce its emissions by 10% compared to business as usual, and India to reduce its emissions by 11% compared to business as usual.

    Not major developing countries constitutes developing countries which are members of the Major Economies Forum, i.e. China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea.

    The CPRS legislation is not in its final form, if I were the Green’s I would not pass the legislation without changes, but I would focus on more important and achievable issues than the unconditional target.

  43. Rudd is the leader, he needs to act like one. That means taking the other parties with him. He is the leader not just of the ALP, but of Australia.

    He isn’t my leader. He’s an elected public servant that works on policy and law in Canberra. If he was somebody that we wanted to follow then he wouldn’t need all those big sticks.

  44. Marian Wilkinson in today’s Herald sums the issue up neatly. The real game is 350 parts per million (by 2350 would give us 350/350) and no coal by 2030 (30/30 – 30,000 Australian workers relocated to the Green energy sector by 2030).

    In this game Rudd and Wong are irrelevant. Hu Jintao and Barack Obama are the only significant players left in the game.

    Convergence of per caput consumption by 2050 (50/50 by 50) was going to be part of the deal – but is being studiously obfuscated in the overdeveloped world. We keep insisting the underdeveloped commit to reductions in emissions, but on per caput grounds this is not necessary.

    The cost to Obama of a deal is slightly more than 0.1% of GDP growth. The cost of no deal is a bit more of a probability distribution in his eyes. The cost to China of a deal excluding 50/50 by 50 is a serious loss of face. The cost of no deal is carnage when the Himalayan glaciers stop running. Unpopulist China has suffered and survived carnage before.

    For someone of my advanced years this could be the poker game to end all poker games. I admire the stand that the Greens are taking – but it is a courageous play in (I regret to say) a little game being played out on the edge of the real action. As it is the only play I can influence I will support it to the hilt.

  45. One thing which must be borne in mind in trying to understand the politics of this issue is that the ALP has never, collectively, had a coherent and unified position on environmental policy in general or on the political salience of environmental issues.

    There are undoubtedly some individual ALP figures who have a strong understanding of and commitment to the sustainability agenda, who understand that the public thinks environmental issues are important and understand why this is so, or who understand both of these things. Geoff Gallop, Rod Welford, Bob Carr, Jim Soorley, Joan Kirner, LIndsay Tanner, Graham Richardson (in his way), Peter Beattie (in his way) all spring to mind. When their counsels have prevailed Labor has made good environmental policy and reaped a political reward for so doing.

    Then there are others who are dismissive of environmental issues and deeply hostile to environmentalists. They need not be named, but suffice it to say that they are not without influence.

    Finally, there is perhaps the most numerous group of all (at least at the parliamentarian and cadre level), namely those for whom neither the sustainability agenda nor opposition to it is a central concern or a major motive for their being involved in politics. Such people are generally by no means hostile to the sustainability agenda, if anything they are sympathetic to it in an untutored kind of way, but when it looms as large as it does in the current debate about the CPRS, it does so for these people as a confusing and somewhat frustrating complicating factor snarling their more conventional social, economic and industrial policy concerns. They struggle to “get” why the sustainability agenda should be a central ccncern for Labor governments, they struggle to “get” why so many voters get so transported by environmental issues, and they struggle to “get” why the traditional Labor political “balance” fix of giving a bit to both sides of a policy argument is inadequate, both in policy terms and politically, when it comes to climate policy. I would contend that Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Penny Wong and Greg Combet all fall into this category, as I think does Anna Bligh.

    The shorter version of what I have just written is that if the Rudd government has looked all over the ship on the climate change issue, this is probably because it really is all over the ship on the issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s