Climate committee is no citizens assembly, thank God

Originally published on http://www.thepunch.com.au 

After all the scorn and criticism surrounding the much talked of, somewhat derided, plan for a Citizen’s Assembly Gillard has just announced a new plan to tackle climate change, in the form of a multi-party climate change committee; investigating and deliberating over the best way to implement a price on carbon.

Gillard’s definitely singing a different tune to her pre-election decisiveness that she had “ruled out” the possibility of a carbon tax under any government she lead.

Now, after a lot of somewhat hysterical party shuffling, repositioning, negotiating and endless demands and speeches. Gillard is most certainly leading her misshapen, conglomerate government, and the possibility of a carbon tax is most certainly back on the table.

The committee itself is a mishmash of almost everyone with the notable exception of Coalition representative who have been firmly told not to have anything to do with the consultation on the grounds that it is undemocratic and, in Abbott’s words, ‘repugnant’.

Abbott presents the convincing argument that Gillard’s climate change committee is in fact a secret internal faction of believers who belong a cult endorsed by hundreds of scientists worldwide who ‘believe’ in the manmade phenomenon of climate change (and the ludicrous idea that our finite resources are bound to run out at some point), and moreover are rational enough to attempt to find an economically viable solution to it.

Crazy, huh.

Perhaps the Coalition, particularly the likes of Abbott, Mirabella and Hunt, would respond better to the concept of mitigating the effects of climate change if it was framed in terms of risk assessment. When you put it that way, it all becomes delightfully clear. The Potsdam Institution has given us a 2 degree increase buffer that we cannot exceed. Let’s just accept that as reasonable (China, US, Japan, India, even mega-mining corporations like Rio Tinto have gotten on that bandwagon) because, to be frank, we don’t have the scientific nous to seriously challenge the conclusions of Potsdam.

So, with a 2 degree rise in atmospheric warming permitted we then are faced with a question of risk management – how far do we want to push that limit, how long do we want to delay action, what are the probable consequences of our decisions.

First two are easy. We don’t. The price to pay for crossing that 2 degree line is enormous. The consequences are huge.

The price to pay is enormous in terms of the human cost of lives lost in increased natural disasters, food shortages and fresh water shortages. The cost is enormous when you think of the number of climate refugees and displaced people that such disasters will produce. Similarly, the consequences are massive when considering the economic ramifications of destabilised global economic, massively compromised trade relationships, sudden loss of resources upon which our economies depend with no viable alternative system to implement…

Framed in these terms, the terms endorsed by those with the economic and scientific know-how (rather than the political clout), perhaps it seems a little more reasonable, Abbott, that the climate change committee is just going to accept that climate change exists and move on from there.

But, Coalition aside, there remains the important question – is this just another time sucking talk fest with no concrete plans for a real solution?

Labor’s track record with following through on commitments to deal with climate change is not as squeaky clean as one might hope. In fact, their track record is anything but impressive. However, the fact remains that whilst prior to this committee there was no plan to deal with climate change, there now exists not only an avenue to formulate a plan but a mechanism through which expert advisors, businesses, the Greens and independents can build a plan that is based on more than just tokenistic gestures and could foster real policy debate as to the best way to reduce carbon emissions.

It’s off to a surprisingly good start.

The very foundation upon which the committee has been established – that action on climate change is needed urgently and decisively – already puts the committee miles ahead of the Citizen’s Assembly proposed by Gillard pre-election. Seems that the government has pulled its head out of the sand (at least marginally) which is a relief. And, the collaboration between the Greens and Labor within the committee will hopefully avoid good v perfect debate that tarnished Rudd’s previous attempt to push the CPRS through.

So here’s hoping. Here’s hoping for genuine and constructive policy debate. Here’s hoping for the Coalition to either withdraw quietly on this one, or to suck it up and jump on board with the rest of them. Here’s hoping that all of the stakeholders develop a little bit of perspective and understand that really, in the long run, it is in all of our best interests to do whatever it takes to stay bellow that 2 degree threshold.

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