Federal Labor this week commemorated a dubious anniversary – a decade of climate policy failure. And it pointed the finger of blame squarely at the Greens.
Labor claimed that had the Greens not voted against its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) in 2009, Australia’s carbon emissions would be more than 200 million tonnes lower and electricity would be more affordable.
Labor MP Pat Conroy said the Coalition and the Greens “bear a heavy responsibility for the fact that, a decade later, Australia still does not have an effective policy to tackle climate change by reducing emissions”.
But one moment in 2009 is not the root cause of ongoing parliamentary disagreement over climate action. And the Greens cannot be blamed for what came afterwards.
The main lesson from that time is that cynical parliamentary strategies and weak reforms from the major parties are at the heart of climate policy failure.
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To understand what played out in Parliament in 2009, it is useful to briefly refresh our memories on the couple of years that led up to it.
Labor’s proposed CPRS followed then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s famous call to act on the “great moral challenge” of climate change. The policy was a “cap and trade” emissions trading scheme (ETS) which in theory would have limited greenhouse gas pollution from industry.
Public concern about climate change at the time had peaked and Labor won the 2007 election partly on the strength of its climate policies.
The CPRS legislation followed the Garnaut Climate Change Review. Ross Garnaut, a prominent economist, proposed emissions targets that environmentalists considered inadequate. Meanwhile industry, which would have incurred costs under the scheme, was unhappy with the limited compensation proposed.