Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Why the Greens are wrong to support the carbon tax

Carbon tax pushes workers away from the environmental movement

Julia Gillard’s so called ‘Clean Energy Future’, the 18 pieces of legislation that make up the carbon tax, have been introduced to the Parliament. The legislation has the support of the Greens, who opposed Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). Also supporting it are a swathe of environmental groups.

But does the carbon tax represent real action on climate change? The unfortunate answer is ‘no’.

The key test of any climate change policy is the emissions reductions it will achieve. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its last report called for developed countries to cut emissions by 40% on 1990 levels by 2020. It now appears that even this was an under estimate and that deeper cuts are required. So what reductions will the carbon tax actually achieve?

Like the CPRS, the carbon tax has emission reduction targets of just 5% on 2000 levels by 2020. There is the possibility of this increasing to 25% with international action, however, this is extremely unlikely to occur. Even the 5% target will only be achieved on the basis of purchasing overseas credits. Domestic emissions are actually set to increase by around 10% by the late 2020s as part of the plan; by 2050 they will barely be below 2000 levels.

The Greens claim the carbon tax is the “first vital step towards” real action on climate change. This is a key theme of supporters of the package. This is because they know that the proposed cuts in emissions – or rather lack of them – are completely inadequate.

While the carbon tax legislation is championed for ‘making the big polluters pay’, the reality is a million miles from this. As under the CPRS, big polluters will receive 65 – 95% of permits for free, while the biggest emitting power stations will get 5 years of permits for absolutely nothing. The plan pay some of the dirtiest coal fired power stations to close is an admission that taxing pollution is incapable of bringing about a transition to renewable energy.

In fact Gillard has proudly proclaimed that the carbon tax is no threat to the polluting coal industry, with output set to double while gas will see exponential growth. Under current projections renewables will account for less than 2% of energy produced in Australia by 2020.

Much fanfare has gone along with the $10 billion fund for renewable energy, however, to put this in context, while renewables get $10 billion over 5 years, last year the big polluters got $12 billion in hand outs in one year alone! The Greens claim the fund will start to plan for a 100% renewable energy future; it seems they either haven’t read the plan, or have shut their eyes to it.

The Greens support for the carbon tax is useful for Gillard as it provides her with a ‘green’ cover. It has misled a layer of environmental activists who now support this legislation as a ‘step in the right direction’. As argued previously by the Socialist Party, market based measures will simply not work. Any serious plan to tackle climate change needs to involve large scale investment in renewable energy.

The private sector has no real interest in investing in renewables – especially while coal and gas is so profitable. The only way to make the shift to renewables is by bringing the energy sector into public ownership. Once the big power stations are in public hands a plan could be implemented to phase out coal and gas while investing in solar, wind and geothermal.

At the same time, rather than allowing the private sector to just sack workers in the coal industry, a public plan could ensure that jobs and communities are protected during the transition. Rather than getting sucked into supporting a carbon tax that only creates another market, we need to focus on policies that can really address climate change.

The best way to do this is not by relying on the Greens or the parliament but by mobilising people around a campaign that fights for socialist solutions to the climate crisis. Working people are the only ones who have the power to address climate change. Unfortunately the carbon tax only pushes workers away from the environmental movement.

By David Suter