Australia screws the planet

“I dare you to jump”
“I double dare you”
“I’ll jump if you jump”
“You go first”
“Let’s just skip a bit instead and go home”

This basically sums up the much awaited 800 page carbon reduction white paper released by the Australian Government today.

After many environmental groups had pushed for greenhouse gas reductions of 40% by 2020 and some sectors such as the filthy…I mean clean…I mean “low emissions” coal industry of course lobbied for far, far less, the verdict is in.

Australia is the biggest carbon polluter in the developed world on a per capita basis and bearing that in mind, the Australian Government has settled on an incredibly pathetic carbon emission reduction commitment of between 5% and 15% by 2020.

It gets worse – there’s some further fine print.

The 5% reduction of 2000 levels by 2020 is unconditional, and, well, pathetic. We may as all buy Hummers for all the good that will do. 5%, even if implemented globally, will not take us below the 350ppm which is needed to bring us back to a “safe” level.

The 15% reduction *might* only happen if all other developed countries agree to at least the same amount. Even at 15%, it’s well below what many environmentalists and scientists believe is necessary to avert disastrous climate change.

And guess what? The coal industry is, according to the government, here for the long term due to the wondrous, all singing, all dancing, miraculous prospect of low emissions coal. Who possibly could have seen that coming?

What isn’t mentioned is that to create this “low emissions coal” through processes such as Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) takes around 25% more.. coal.

It’s the perfect crime; yes, we can have low emissions coal, but we’ll need more of it – more investment in mining, more export dollars for Australia, but therefore also more environmental degradation from other angles. The coal industry will be laughing all the way to the bank.

While there were many often somewhat vague references to renewable energy and a few bones thrown in relation to the local renewable, the 800 page white paper only mentioned the word “solar” once and the word “wind” 0 times. Yes, I checked. No word on lifting the means test on solar rebates *** and absolutely nothing on a nationalised gross feed in tariff scheme. These two strategies alone could have really kicked off a major solar revolution in this country.

I still firmly believe that governments hate the idea of giving individuals more energy independence as that erodes the power of governments and it doesn’t serve the interests of big business – and businesses run countries.

The only  bright spots in the white paper were the fast tracking of $500 million for renewable energy projects (details still sketchy – but it doesn’t look like there’s much there for small scale/home owner installations), support for consumers, business and community groups for adapting to the transition where carbon has a cost, plus a generous commitment to helping us all get a little more energy efficient. After all, the most environmentally friendly watt of electricity is the one you don’t have to create.

Regardless, Australians who voted the Rudd government in primarily on its climate change stance will likely be very, very disappointed tonight. We had a chance to be the one who jumps the highest, to show the world that we had really, really big environmental cojones, but it seems our eco-testes have disappeared as if they were suddenly exposed to sub-zero temperatures; which is something we’ll see less of in these parts as climate change really sets in.

Thanks Kev, Penny, Peter and crew. Like Howard before you in regards to Iraq, you have ignored the will of the people. Democracy lay bleeding in the gutter before you took power, you’ve just kicked it in its broken ribs.

I’m sure your masters (the coal industry and the like) are well pleased with your efforts. Sleep well, secure in the knowledge that if everyone decides to follow Australia’s pathetic lead of a 5% reduction commitment, you have blazed the trail for assisting all of us in totally and utterly screwing the planet.

The Carbon Reduction Scheme white paper can be viewed in full here.

*** Update: On December 17, 2 days after the release of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme white pagper, Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett announced the new “solar credits” program for new solar power, wind energy and hydro systems up to 1.5 kilowatts.

Set to kick in from July 1, 2009; the program effectively removes the means test and will be available to everyone – home owner, businesses and community groups. The solar credits program will use a RECs multiplier system and represents equivalent savings of up to $7,500 on a renewable energy system

Given the importance and impact of this program, it’s curious that it wasn’t mentioned at all in the white paper. While the solar credits program will certainly allow more people to install renewable energy systems, Australian Greens Sentator Christine Milne views the program with suspicion, stating that “each megawatt hour of solar power will take up the space of five megawatthours in the scheme means the 20% target will now deliver even lessrenewable energy into the grid than it should.”