Solheim Glacier, Iceland (Top) April 2006; (Bottom) February 2009. James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) – Click to enlarge


By Gratton Wilson


I started to write this note a few days ago but like most people interested in removing greenhouse gas pollution from the atmosphere I was thrown into confusion on learning that the Government had changed its policy of putting a price on carbon by means of a fixed price.

The change is to an Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) with a floating price on carbon commencing at around $6 tonne. This was formally announced by the Prime Minister on 16 July to become operational in July 2014. The move to an ETS will cost the Budget $3.8 Billion which will be found by making savings in the Budget. While some of these savings will slow down part of the Government’s climate change program the overall integrity will be maintained. No doubt there will be much debate about aspects of this change of policy as the months go by. It will require careful analysis by the various sections of the community with particular interests. It should be noted that 34 countries have an ETS and others are about to come on line in a number of cities and provinces in China.

This important change comes at a time when there is growing world wide awareness that urgent action must be taken on climate change. This has been emphasised by the knowledge that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 400 ppm.  This concern about this figure is that failure to hold or reduce that concentration will lead to temperature rise in the 21st century beyond the 2º C which has been considered the desired limit.

The International Energy Agency has seen the need to focus on energy sources other than the fossil fuel on which we currently depend. Wind energy and solar cells are seen as paramount. There are many other processes in development – tidal, wave generation and geothermal. In the USA President Obama has announced that Administrative action will be taken through the Department of Environment to claw back the country’s current pollution and develop alternate energy resources. The USA already has considerable wind energy resources in operation with others coming on line almost daily. Similar developments are occurring in other countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

In Australia the Climate Commission has recently issued a report. To quote from the report:

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The Critical Decade 2013: A summary of climate change science, risks and responses

The overall message of the report is clear.

One quarter of the way through the Critical Decade, many consequences of climate change are already evident, and the risks of further climate change are better understood. To meet the widely accepted policy goal of limiting climate change to a temperature rise of no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, global society must virtually de-carbonise in the next 30-35 years. This means that most of the fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.


The report has not been welcomed by the coal industry, and comes at the same time as the industry is ceasing its work on sequestration of pollution from coal fired power stations. The funds are being used for promotion of the use of coal in Australia and overseas. The Government-funded sequestration program will continue but at rate that better fits the scientific and engineering progress. The Government still sees a future for Australia’s coal industry. World wide there seems to be a lessening of confidence in the industry as the decline in coal fired powered stations gathers momentum.

The Coalition’s Direct Action policy
The Coalition’s Direct Action policy is three paragraphs in the policy pamphlet Real Solutions. It is brief and lacking in detail. In effect it is about paying polluters a lot of taxpayer’s money to reduce emissions, planting a lot of trees, and experimenting with farmers putting carbon in soil. It is proposed $3.3 billion to be used for the first of these policies. The second is to be carried out by a”green army” presumably paid for by tax payers (with perhaps some volunteers). Tony Abbot has said that the Green Army will not be public servants. No written details appear to be available but from comments made by Mr Abbott and Mr Rudd its seems the green soldiers will be doing projects similar to those performed by some Landcare groups and other community organisations. If indeed they are to be used for planting the large plantings that would be needed to have any impact on our level of pollution the organising and payment of 15000 people including professional support staff would be significant. There are scientific reports which argue that this type of tree planting will not be a significant contributor to green house gas reduction.

Professor Brendan Mackay of Griffith University is also doing work on this subject and has recently commented:

 “……no amount of reafforestation or growing of new trees will ultimately off-set continuing CO2 emissions due to environmental constraints on plant growth and the large amounts of remaining fossil fuel reserves.”

Planting trees in suitable areas does have many benefits and is already the activity of many organisations.

The principle of paying people or organisations to stop polluting is like the council paying litterbugs to stop littering. It is clearly wrong-headed. Those who cause the pollution should bear the cost. It is understood that applications would be invited from organisations and individuals for projects designed to cut pollution. Projects that are selected will be financed by Government. Its called pollution reduction by incentive. Information of how and by whom it would be managed has not been made public. It is known that details will not be released unless the Opposition becomes the Government. Its believed that part of the policy is to penalise polluters if their pollution exceeds their normal pollution level. How these ideas would work is not known. Given the history of LNP in awarding community grants this requires clarification.

Sequestration of carbon using soil is problematic. There is no doubt incorporation of carbon into an agricultural system can have benefits to some soils. How enduring the incorporation is is a moot question as are the conditions under which it might be beneficial. There is a similar program in Labor’s Policy, but it is not pivotal to the program. The Coalition has allowed a figure of $23 per tonne to be paid to farmers. A recent paper by A/Prof. Kragt of Western Australian suggests that $80 is more realistic [ Science Network WA]. The Professor has written other papers on soil sequestration. There are a number of projects throughout Australia, many funded by the Commonwealth, others by the States. There is considerable work being done overseas. These activities will throw more light on the subject but none of the reports I have seen would reinforce the NLP view that this technique can be part of a replacement to putting a price on carbon. The purported proposal to have one million houses fitted with solar cells during the life of a Coalition government is not included in Direct Action plan. The Liberal party Direct Action policy can be found on their website.

The Greens Policy
The Greens Policy is a document of three pages. It consists of fifteen single line points of Principle and seventeen lines of Actions. This document has now been melded into the Greens recently released overall policy statement, Climate change actions have sensibly woven into environment and social statements. In the main the Principles and Actions are desirable but many are socially and practically difficult to achieve. In the main to carry them out would necessitate adoption of the Greens taxation policies. An unlikely event.

Point 7 calls for no new coal fired power stations nor expansion of existing ones.

I draw attention to Point 9 which raises the question of climate refugees and the issues to which they give rise. This is an area which is not in the Australian consciousness. There are already climate refugees in America and the African continent. Soon climate change refugees will increase our own problems. This issue is not addressed in other policies.

Point 8 calls for an equitable transition to a net zero carbon economy through a range of market- based and regulatory mechanisms. This in effect is in line with what the Government is doing.

The policy could be seen as supportive of the Labor approach but it is not in sympathy with that of the NLP. It is science based with a social conscience. The two policy documents can be found at here.

The Labor Party Policy
The Labor Party Policy titled “A clean energy future” is at Chapter 4 of the National Platform and it is twelve pages long. It is the only document so far released by a political party, relating to the coming election, which I would call a full detailed policy on this subject. The only areas related to climate change not embraced in this document are foreign affairs linked issues and health related issues. They may be covered elsewhere in the larger National Platform but should also be referred to in this section. After an Introduction and a paragraph on Labor values there is a short list of achievements then Labor’s priorities. The material covered is so comprehensive that all that can be done is give the headings:-

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Labor priorities
The transition to a clean energy future
Emission Trading Scheme
(A carbon price)
Environment and heritage
Energy capacity
Supporting industry and jobs
Household assistance
Clean energy Energy efficiency
Carbon farming
Indigenous economic development
International action on climate change.
Direct investment in clean energy jobs
Building energy capacity
Adapting to the climate change we cannot avoid
Preparing primary industries for climate change and future droughts
Strengthening the role of farmers in the delivery of environmental services
Managing our water assets


Having spent some time reading and writing about these policies it is not difficult to want to give some advice to those responsible:

To the L-NP, I say go and do your homework. Discard the “Big New Tax” mantra, disregard vested interests and adopt the policies of the major world players. Your three present proposals taken together would be a waste of taxpayers’ money as they will become bureaucratic and not give the result needed. They have been voted down by members of you own party, scientists and economists the world over and by those in our community who want to see atmospheric pollution stopped.

I give you D minus

The Greeens
To the Greens I say rewrite your document with flesh on the bones. Assuming things can be done is not good enough you need argument as to why and how.

I give you C plus

Labor Party
To Labor you need to make sure your recent policy announcement is covered by existing documentation. A series of short pamphlets directed at specific interest groups and a shorter overall document for general distribution incorporating new policy

I say a good policy and award an A

On a final note. Over the last week or so there have been many articles and comments made throughout the world that make it very clear that to solve the problem we must stop putting green house gases into the atmosphere and the only way to do that is for there to be price on carbon and to stop using fossil fuels. All the other ideas may or may not help in varying degrees but they cannot and will not fix it.