Debate: A tax won’t fix climate change

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The following is an article written by Virginia Streit for Beyond Zero Emissions’ blog.

Beyond Zero Emissions Executive Director Matthew Wright took part in last week’s Intelligence Squared debate on carbon pricing schemes.

The wording of the debate topic, “A tax won’t fix climate change”, was not only confusing but also open to interpretation. Wright, who agrees with the proposition yet advocates action on climate change, was pitted against Adam Bandt MP and Chief Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery. As the audience discussed being “for” or “against”, I wondered whether they meant for or against the proposition, or for or against the government’s current carbon price offering.

Wright got straight to the point when arguing that a price on carbon would not solve climate change. Illustrating the immense scale of the climate crisis and its solutions, Wright referred to Beyond Zero Emissions and the Melbourne Energy Institute’s joint report, the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan: “There is already too much carbon in the air – we need to decarbonise now.”

While action on climate change must be taken, argued Wright, a price on carbon could do more harm than good. If carbon prices encourage the electricity generation sector to shift towards gas infrastructure instead of renewables, then that would set back efforts to address climate change. “Gas is a diversion, not a short cut,” said Wright. “Renewables are the only alternative and can be achieved with financing from government bonds or Feed-in Tariffs.”

In contrast to carbon pricing mechanisms, the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan identifies immediate and permanent action to transition Australia from 19th-century coal energy technology to a 21st-century renewable energy sector.

Removing the regulatory barriers holding back wind power and implementing effective deployment policies for rooftop solar would lower electricity bills through the Merit Order Effect, argued Wright. Tackling carbon emissions by integrating existing renewable energy technologies into the national energy market would save Australians money and benefit our climate.

A friend who accompanied me made an interesting point: “I feel like if I vote against the carbon tax, politicians will take that to mean I don’t want to act against climate change.” Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt (Melbourne), speaking for the opposing team, echoed this sentiment in his closing statement. “I want 100 percent renewables,” the MP said. “That journey starts with a first step and I am excited that that first step starts with a package that includes a price on carbon.”

In the end, the audience members cast their ballots: 25 per cent were for the statement, “a tax won’t fix climate change”, and 68 per cent were against it – perhaps a good sign for the government’s proposed carbon price legislation.

Whether for or against the Federal Government’s carbon price, one thing remains true: renewable energy is ready to provide Australia with reliable baseload electricity. As Wright stated, “Technology is available now and it is cost competitive – let’s use it.”

While I have reservations about the government’s planned carbon price, the way it was announced and the subsequent public dialogue, I believe that it is a good thing Australia is finally taking proactive steps towards decarbonising the economy. Carbon pricing is a good first step, but it’s no silver bullet.

Those for the proposition:

  • Stuart Allinson – Exigency
  • Matthew Wright – Beyond Zero Emissions
  • Sinclair Davidson – Institute of Public Affairs

Those against:

  • Fiona O’Hehir – CEO of Greenbank Environment
  • Tim Flannery – Chief Climate Commissioner
  • Adam Bandt MP – Federal Member for Melbourne


Source: Beyond Zero Emissions

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