Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Is putting a price on carbon a step forward?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In February the Gillard Government, with the support of the Greens, announced their plan to introduce a carbon tax in Australia as of July 2012. While the full details of the policy are yet to be released, it has already become clear it will fall far short of what is needed to seriously address climate change.

Beyond Zero Emissions has argued a price on carbon of less than $70 a tonne will result in “minimal benefits to renewable energy”. Despite this, Treasurer Wayne Swan has said Labor’s carbon price would be less than $45 per tonne, and the Greens have supported a carbon price as low as $23 a tonne.

What has been agreed is that much of the cost of the new carbon tax will be passed on to consumers through price increases. Labor has suggested households will be compensated for some of the increased cost of living, which simply means ordinary people will pay for the tax whether it is through price increases or cuts to other aspects of public spending!

Both Labor and the Greens see the carbon tax as an interim measure that will be followed by an emissions trading scheme, the specifics of which have not yet been established.

While many climate activists agree the carbon tax policy is woefully inadequate, and recognise the uniform failure of emissions trading everywhere it has been introduced, some are supporting the move by Labor as ‘a step in the right direction’.

The question is: What steps are necessary to avert a climate catastrophe?

The relatively conservative International Panel on Climate Change recommends Australia needs to reduce its emissions by at least 25 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. This will require an immediate and dramatic shift away from fossil fuels and other polluting energy sources, towards renewable energy sources such as wind and solar thermal.

Yet the Labor Government remains intent on a reduction of just 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020. While they have committed $1 billion over ten years to promote “green” electricity, this pales in insignificance to the $12 billion per year they give in subsidies to the big polluters!

Instead of lining the pockets of big business, this money should be used for public investment into renewable energy. Rather, Labor is intent on implementing an ineffectual carbon tax that will simply pass costs onto consumers, then developing a new market for business to trade a new commodity: a license to pollute.

To argue the Government’s approach is ‘a step forward’ is either misguided optimism or blatant dishonesty.

Throughout the history of capitalism, the environment has existed as a bountiful trove of resources and a free dumping ground for industrial waste. The long-term reliance on fossil fuels has meant those who plunder and pollute without regard for consequences have become some of the most profitable and powerful capitalists across the world. The Labor Party, like all capitalist parties, are committed to the continuation of this system that is destroying the planet.

It is the market system that created this mess, yet the Labor Government argues the solution is to create more markets! While the global economic crisis has opened many eyes to the insanity of capitalism, some are still hoping market ‘solutions’ can help avert the destruction of the planet. In fact, the particular markets being advocated in the call for emissions trading are particularly unstable derivatives markets, the same type that have cause so much chaos in the global economy over the last few years.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix to the critical problem of climate change. What is required is a dramatic change in the way society operates. In order to make the changes that are necessary, we need an economy that fundamentally puts the needs of people and the environment before the pursuit of profit. A democratic socialist economy would be capable of carrying out immediate investment into renewable energy, a systematic of phase-out of coal whilst retraining workers and retooling factories, and a dramatic expansion of public transport to end society’s dependence on fossil-fuels.

We cannot allow political parties that prop up the needs and desires of big business to divert our attention away from this goal. Therefore, Labor’s carbon tax cannot be seen as a step forward but rather a diversion away from what needs to be done in the fight for real solutions to the climate crisis.

By Socialist Party reporters


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