As we celebrate World Environment Day this Friday June 5 - the theme of which is ‘UN-ite to stop climate change' - the Liberal and Labor parties continue to argue over what extent greenhouse-intense industries should be protected under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
Unfortunately, the Rudd government's current scheme is more like a ‘Continue Polluting Regardless Scheme'.
The proposed target of 5 to 25 per cent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions cannot protect us from dangerous climate change. It will also undermine any chance of reaching a strong agreement at Copenhagen (the next round of international negotiations) at the end of the year, by giving other countries an excuse to lower their level of ambition.
As the Greens' spokesperson on community services, I am concerned for people who will be least able to help themselves to address climate change and its related impacts. Our national efforts to reduce energy and water use should include measures to help those who can least afford rising energy prices. Energy-efficient appliances and insulation can greatly reduce energy bills.
The Greens have shown the way with our energy Efficiency Access and Savings Initiative, where the government would progressively roll out energy efficiency measures, starting with low income homes and rentals. The cost of energy audits and measures taken (paid for upfront by the government) is paid back within 10 years, after which householders will enjoy the savings benefits. For more expensive investment in power generation - it's EASI!
Instead of following the lead of countries such as Germany to embrace sustainable, job-creating industries such as renewable energy, Australia has dragged its feet. There have been some steps in the right direction, such as the $640 million green jobs package secured by the Greens in this year's economic stimulus package which could create 10,000 local jobs in local sustainable industries, but we need more.
In WA, we are already seeing the first impacts of climate change on our environment. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the 21 per cent decline in south-west WA's rainfall and 64 per cent decline in run-off is that worse is projected.
A quarter of WA's 100 banksia species are predicted to disappear in their current range under conservative models, while by 2050, WA's wheat and sheep production is expected to shrink by a quarter. Imagine this in the Great Southern, where agribusiness covers 70 per cent of the are and is a key contributor to the economy.
The WA rock lobster fishery, previously worth $300 million annually, is another industry facing declining harvests, at least partly due to climate change.
The current CPRS will hand $16 billion to big-business polluters in compensation for the costs they will experience as a result of their carbon-polluting.
It will stop Australia from performing our responsibility in protecting the climate and it will stand in the way of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in climate protection and clean green new industries.
We need to move towards a green economy, with increased investment in renewable technologies and sustainable industries. Putting in place an emissions trading scheme designed to protect the fossil industries of the past does nothing to address the ever-increasing threat of irreversible climate change.
The Greens will not support the government's CPRS in its current form in the Senate because it is simply not going to achieve the changes that we desperately need.
However, as our record shows, we will listen and negotiate on a scheme that will deliver public good to all Australians, not just big polluters.
This piece was originally published in the Perth Voice, on June 5th 2009.