WE all know both Labor and the Coalition have jettisoned plans to implement an emissions trading scheme to tame climate change. But Australia is not alone in failing to put a price on carbon. Global warming fatigue is setting in all over the world.
Canada’s cap-and-trade legislation is going nowhere. Japan’s weak and divided government has temporarily shelved its ETS in parliament. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s carbon tax is blocked by the Constitutional Council. Public opinion polls show higher climate scepticism in Britain than in western Europe, North America and the Antipodes. Even when an ETS has been implemented, as in the case of the European Union, the policy has been a debacle: a collapsed carbon price, higher energy prices, and increased emissions during the first three years in operation.
China’s leaders, far from leading the world to a low-carbon future, won’t sign a legally binding global deal, because they want to grow their economy and reduce poverty on the back of the cheapest form of (carbon) energy.
Senior Indian politicians, meanwhile, criticise US officials when they push for Delhi to adopt binding emissions targets.
Nowhere is the changing climate more evident than in the US. Last month, congress could not even agree to a climate bill to debate on the Senate floor before a vote. Nor was it simply conservative Republicans who opposed what is called “cap and tax”. Democrats from states heavily dependent on coal, oil and manufacturing are overwhelmingly opposed to Al Gore’s agenda. When the House passed a climate bill a year ago, one in five Democrats opposed the legislation.
Meanwhile, even prominent global warming believers have come out against the ETS. US environmental lobby groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth; the ETS intellectual architect Thomas Crocker; NASA climate scientist James Hansen, among others, have repudiated the concept of cap and trade, saying it protects the big polluters while doing virtually nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Washington’s failure to act this year represents a missed opportunity. If the US, where liberal Democrats control the White House and have super majorities in the House and Senate, can’t legislate a tiny 4 per cent cut to emissions of 1990 levels by 2020 (with loads of loopholes and pork to industry), what are the chances of comprehensive climate reform when Republicans make likely gains in the House and Senate in November’s mid-term elections?
All is not lost. The Environmental Protection Agency could use the 1990 Clean Air Act to regulate emissions, but such action would probably get bogged down in litigation for years. Beijing has also announced it will introduce domestic carbon trading programs and it has invested heavily in renewable energy, but any efforts to reduce emissions are outweighed by China’s meeting the demands of its rapidly industrialising economy.
The Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. But the global momentum towards a genuine international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Mexico later this year is rapidly slowing. Get ready for another Copenhagen.