As the government tries to pass its controversial carbon trading legislation, the latest polling indicates widespread public support for it. The latest Nielsen poll finds 65 per cent support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), while 25 per cent are opposed. Of the 25% opposition, half (that is, 12.5% of the total) are opposed because they don’t believe in climate change, or think the economy is more important. Just over 8% of the total thought Australia should wait for other countries. Less than 5% of the total respondents opposed the bill because it did not go far enough.
However, this poll may not provide the full picture. An Essential Research poll released on June 22 asked respondents to choose sides on the division in the environment movement over the CPRS. The question asked, “groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF and the Climate Institute are supporting the Government’s plan for an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), while other groups like Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth want the Government to adopt a more ambitious, tougher scheme. Which would you support?” While 47% were undecided, 29% supported “a tougher scheme”, as against 24% support for the government.
On the positive side, the 65% supporting the CPRS are probably doing so because they do want some action on climate change, and comparing the two polls indicates that the 65% for the CPRS in the Nielsen poll may not be unquestioning support.
The Greens remain adamantly opposed to the CPRS. At the suggestion that much of the public may support the CPRS because they think it “better than nothing”, Greens Senator Christine Milne told Green Left that “It’s a great irony for a Government elected on the promise of climate action that the best they themselves can say about their policy is that it’s better than nothing. But it’s an even bigger irony that it’s not true – the CPRS is worse than useless. It’s a step backwards, holding back the kind of action we need in order to deliver a safe climate to the next generation.
“We’re confident that a large number of people support our view that the CPRS is too flawed to pass, and we will keep campaigning and presenting our zero emissions safe climate vision at the same time as working to convince the Government to make their legislation environmentally effective and economically efficient.”
Liberals: to support or not to support?
Meanwhile, the June 28 Age reports the Liberal party is commissioning a “detailed study of the sectoral and regional impacts” of the CPRS along with independent MP Nick Xenophon. Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has suggested that his party will move amendments to the CPRS to attempt to support it. However, it remains to be seen whether any more amendments will be acceptable to Labor.
Although the CPRS may pass in the lower house, the Senate is still unlikely. The bill will need support from the Liberals, or failing that from the Greens, Xenophon and Family First Senator Fielding to pass it in the Senate. Fielding has recently declared himself a climate denier, so his support for a bill on climate action is highly unlikely.
Who will pay for the CPRS?
Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute told ABC TV’s July 1 Lateline that rising energy prices due to the CPRS will add billions of dollars to the electricity bills of state-run schools, hospitals and other bodies. "It's inconceivable that anyone could think that the big polluters are more deserving of assistance and compensation than the state governments that provide essential services like health and education," he said.
Backing this up, Milne told Green Left Weekly that “The sensible approach would be to invest revenue from carbon pricing in building the zero emissions infrastructure we’ll need – renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grids, public transport. It is simple common sense, backed up by economists, that sending the billions of dollars straight back into the pockets of polluters will undermine the scheme.”
Rudd sets autopilot for armageddon
The Waxman-Markey carbon trading bill that has passed the lower house in the US recently has been held up for comparison with the Australian CPRS. Greens Senator Bob Brown told Lateline the US bill was “not big enough to meet the global emergency of climate change… the scientists tell us we must be aiming at 25 minimum to 40 per cent reduction. However, it is a 17 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 over 2000 levels. Our Government's looking at 5 per cent.”
Meanwhile, seven European climate scientists including five from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research have published a paper in Nature entitled Halfway to Copenhagen, no way to 2 °C. The report states that “To constrain global warming to within 2 °C, developed countries would need to cut their emissions to 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and to 50–80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, according to the best available scientific analyses”.
A target of 25% reductions (leaving out the upper range of 40%) was cited in the Garnaut report as being necessary for stabilising atmospheric CO2 at 450 parts per million (ppm). But prior analysis (published in the UK Stern Report) shows that 450ppm is likely to have up to 78% chance of exceeding 2 degrees global temperature rise. And as David Spratt writes at the Climate Code Red blog, “2˚C is far, far too high, given the now clear evidence that at less than 1˚C of warming we are already on the precipice of climate catastrophe, from the Arctic to the Great Barrier Reef, from the Himalayas to Siberia”.
(This is the unedited original of the article published in Green Left Weekly, July 4 2009 under the title "Poll supports flawed carbon trading")