For the past year or more, ever since Tony Abbott launched his scare campaign over the carbon price, the media team in Climate Change minister Greg Combet’s office have been amusing themselves putting out a weekly bulletin entitled Abbott’s Absurdities. Now, it seems that mainstream business has finally cottoned on.
The “blood oath” pledge by Abbott and the Coalition to repeal the carbon tax, and a bunch of other clean energy and climate initiatives, is looking increasingly like the absurd act of economic vandalism that has and is being portrayed by Combet’s office.
Even the staunchly conservative Australian Industry Group has begun lobbying the Coalition to keep the carbon price – a position shared by just about everyone in industry, and if the pointlessness of the repeal policy was not obvious beforehand, then it should have been after this week’s Australia China Climate Change Forum at UNSW.
The Coalition is basing its policy position on the supposed “fact” that no one else is pursuing carbon pricing. Greg Hunt said insisted that China would never ever have one.
That’s not a view shared by the powerful vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Xie Zhenhua, who told the forum, and the media afterwards, that China expected to have a national emissions trading scheme from 2015 (around the time Abbott would be killing off Australia’s scheme).
China is implementing a series of pilot emissions trading schemes in various provinces and cities this year to test what works for the Chinese economy. It will start off with a small carbon price, but Xie gave a strong indication that any future price would not be small.
He noted, for instance, that the EU carbon price was now so low it was not providing a strong enough signal for investment. Industrialised countries, he noted, needed to lift their level of ambition.
China, however, is also under pressure to accelarate its own action, mostly from within its own population, who have grown concerned about recent extreme pollution events and what Xie described as “crazy” weather.
Xie rattled through a series of “Direct Action” initiatives taken by the government in recent years – investing heavily in wind and solar, as well as hydro and nuclear, setting ambitious non-fossil fuel targets, reducing the energy intensity of its economy by 45 per cent out to 2020, and putting limits on the amount of coal used.
Economists at HSBC, in their analysis of Peak Planet that we reported on yesterday, said what China achieves remains crucial for the world’s attempts to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
It noted that China’s CO2 emissions are already 1.5 times US levels, even though its per capita emissions are a fraction of those of its main economic rival.
HSBC says US emissions per capita peaked in 1973 at 24t CO2per person. China’s are currentlya round 7t CO. According to Chinese government forecasts, China is expected to reach the US levels of income per capita of 1973 in 2030. If it had the same carbon per capita levels as the US had in 1973, then it would deliver 33.5GtCO2 for China in 2030 – higher than world CO2 levels today.
“We believe that China will peak much earlier than this,” HSBC economists noted. And they said China has a good chance of exceeding its stated target for improving carbon intensity by 2020. Indeed, we estimate that China could deliver a 53 per cent reduction in carbon per unit of GDP from 2005-2020 compared with its 40-45 per cent policy target.
RenewEconomy asked Xie when he thought that emissions would peak in China. He didn’t want to give a date, and said it was a careful balance between economic growth and environmental issues. But he concluded with this interesting sentence. “Identifying a peak year is important …. and the earlier the peak is achieved, the more room is preserved for our offspring to develop.”
Meanwhile, the centre-piece of Abbott’s climate policy, apart from dissolving anything that has been implemented in the last few years, is his Green Army proposal to plant trees and build board-walks. Even that great socialist-agrarian Mao Zedong would be embarrassed by such nonsense. The world, including China, has moved on.
Combet delighted in pointing this out: “Repealing the carbon price would trash our international reputation and would be economically reckless – it would do great harm in the longer term,” he said. “To deny all of (China’s initiatives) and pretend Australia lives in a vacuum, and to say that we can repeal it, is complete fantasy.”
Combet said Labor would not “roll over” and wave through a repeal as the Coalition hoped it would. “My party has no intention of repudiating a policy we held for 20 years,” he said. “We will not back down.” That, however, depends on Labor, The Greens and like minded independents having the numbers to do that.