Sunday, 1 September 2013

Coalition Policies and the Environment

In the election campaign both major parties are short-changing the environment but by far the weakest response to environmental issues comes from the Coalition.

The Coalition parties' attitude is encapsulated in a comment made by Nationals leader Warren Truss in an election broadcast – "You don't improve the environment by trashing the economy." Truss and many other politicians miss the point entirely when they speak of the economy and the environment as being separate entities with the economy the central matter. They do not understand that the economy and the human community are subsets of the natural environment.  A healthy economy is dependent ultimately on a healthy environment.

Politicians such as Warren Truss may learn this in the future as the effects of climate change start to impact severely on our way of life – and on the economy.

Truss' comment referred to the carbon tax which he and his Coalition allies have promised to abolish.

While the Coalition officially acknowledges that climate change is a problem, there is still the taint of climate scepticism about some Coalition politicians including the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.  His climate change is "absolute crap" statement was made some time ago but more recently we have had his disparaging comment about the "invisible substance".

Two major components of the Coalition's Direct Action policy on climate change are planting trees and paying farmers for storing carbon in their soils.  Another more significant one is paying polluters to reduce their emissions rather than making them pay for polluting.  Just how effective an incentive this will be in encouraging polluters to move to a low carbon economy is very doubtful.

There are serious questions about the effectiveness of this policy in meeting the target reductions to which the Coalition committed.  There are also questions about the cost of the scheme.  A recent report commissioned by the independent Climate Commission highlights the problems with the Coalition scheme.

For another view of the recent ALP-Coalition "debate" on Direct Action's likely effectiveness see Politifact

Another Coalition policy which has serious implications for the natural environment is the pledge to reduce what developers call "green tape" and to leave much environmental governance to the states.  The idea behind this is to make it easier for business and prevent duplication – naturally something business and industry applauds.  However, removing federal oversight is not in the interests of the natural environment or the broader community.  Consider, for example, what has happened to environmental regulation / environmental protection in NSW under the current state government where, for example,  marine reserve protection has been downgraded, national parks are to be opened up to recreational hunters and land-clearing regulations have been eased.  Giving the states either too much power or sole power on environmental protection is almost certain to be disastrous for the natural environment. 

The Coalition has committed $20 billion to road infrastructure but is ignoring investment in rail which is a much less carbon intensive method of transport.  According to the Australasian Railway Association (quoted in Smoke and mirrors, with no policy on smoke 14% - 76 million tonnes per year - of Australia's greenhouse emissions are generated by transport.  90 % of these emissions are attributable to road transport and only 2% to rail.  Investment in rail in this carbon-constrained world is sensible policy.  Why is this not obvious to Mr Abbott and his team?

Other policies/announcements which are cause for concern include:

* The scrapping of the Biodiversity Fund (originally $1 billion but which now stands at $600 million) and replacement with a $300 million "Green Army".
* Slashing of the $10 billion renewable energy fund and replacement with a $1 billion solar roofs program. Plans to review and possibly weaken the current renewable energy target.
* A proposal to build up to 100 dams throughout the country.

Simplistic sloganeering has been the hallmark of the Coalition in Opposition.  If they win government, they won't be able to rely on slogans.  Environmental challenges such as biodiversity loss, and particularly preparing Australia for the climate challenge ahead, will test the new government.  The Coalition's policies show that it is ill-prepared to meet that challenge.

Northern Rivers
30 August 2013

* Guest Speak is a North Coast Voices segment allowing serious or satirical comment from NSW Northern Rivers residents. Email ncvguestpeak at gmail dot com dot au to submit comment for consideration.

No comments: