Australian Climate Summit Debates Carbon Pricing

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Build a people’s power movement through community organizing, building of alliances and mass mobilization!

by Jess Moore
Green Left Weekly, April 18, 2011

About three hundred and forty climate activists, from more than 100 community climate action groups, attended Australia’s Climate Action Summit in Melbourne from April 9-11.

Some of the key topics discussed were: a carbon price; fossil fuels such as coal, gas and coal seam gas; working with unions; building a people’s power movement; renewable energy campaigns and; bridging the gap between science and politics.

David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, told participants that “climate change is now, not in the future.” He posed the question: “Should science determine politics or should politics determine science?”

A “communique” endorsed by summit participants in the final session called for “a comprehensive national climate policy framework that will deliver emissions reductions consistent with the science of climate change to avoid catastrophic irreversible global warming, as is predicted by experts if urgent emissions reductions do not occur within the next decade.”

The summit said “the current proposals being developed by the federal government’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee for an interim carbon tax and subsequent emissions trading scheme are inadequate” and ruled out support for a carbon price that results in the rollout of fossil fuels, particularly gas, or puts the cost burden on poor and working people.

The summit also agreed that:

  • “Current climate policy options in Australia are inadequate and bear little relationship to actions demanded by the science of climate change.
  • “Recent extreme weather events demonstrate that climate change is happening much faster that has been predicted, and is happening now.
  • “The failure of the current federal opposition to develop evidence based and credible alternative climate policies is unacceptable.
  • “There is a need to build a people’s power movement through community organizing, building of alliances and mass mobilization.
  • “This must take into account that the climate movement must combat one of the largest and powerful disinformation campaigns in human history.”

In a plenary session about carbon pricing federal Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt put the case for a carbon price and did not rule out support for an emissions trading scheme.

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg from Environment Victoria and Will McGoldrick from the Climate Institute, said they would accept a carbon price deal that’s hard-wired to become an emissions trading scheme.

When asked, they did not spell out what the “deal breakers” would be for them in their negotiations with the Labor government about the carbon price scheme.

Bandt did say that the emissions cut targets in the former Rudd government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme were too low, and the industry compensation was too high. But he did not specify what targets or compensation arrangements would be acceptable to the Greens today.

Bandt said that a carbon price is the “current frame that we’re working in”, while McKenzie-McHarg said the climate movement should accept that the “Labor Party has pinned its political fortunes to getting a price on carbon [and] so have the Greens”.

However, speaking on the same panel, Friends of the Earth Sydney’s James Goodman spoke against carbon pricing as an option. “We need to be setting the agenda, not following it,” he said.

Patrick Hearps from Beyond Zero Emissions added: “What we need are measures that work.” He added that building high cost renewable energy infrastructure now would lead to a similar energy price increase as would take place with a carbon tax.

He also warned against “a situation where the continued rollout of renewable energy is dependent on the continued existence of the coal and gas industry” to fund it.

Goodman said the climate movement should not endorse the proposed carbon price on the grounds that “climate policy has to reduce emissions and do so in a way that is socially just.”

He said that “in a growth economy polluters pay to pollute, and pollute more” and that “indirect taxes are always socially unjust; they are always regressive.”

Speaking on a summit panel about working with unions, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney said climate action “won’t happen without workers being on side.”

She said “the ACTU accepts the science” but “the neoliberals have won the debate and we are going to see a restructure along [ETS] lines.”

Luke van der Meulen from the mining and energy division of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union said “the union movement has to get out and mount a campaign about climate and resource depletion” that “cannot turn into an election campaign.”

1 Comment

  • It seems to me that our problem in getting a groundswell of support for climate justice is that the mindset, which has gripped Anglo-Saxon cultures for centuries if not millenia, is still predominant.

    This is an exploitative mindset which says that if it is there, and I want it, and it does not legally belong to someone else, then I have every right to grab it.

    The fact that it is actually a universally required thing, like the atmosphere for example, puts no stop on the grab in fact it increases the motivation for the grab because then you can charge others for using it.