Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Climate change: cold feet II

It's official: the government has delayed the entry of transport - our second largest source of emissions - into the ETS until 1 January 2011. So we will now have an emissions trading scheme which excludes our largest source of emissions (agriculture) for all of CP1, our second largest source for most of it, and which doesn't impact on anyone other than forest owners until 2010. And this, the government claims, will reduce emissions. Bullshit. How will it reduce emissions if costs continue to be externalised onto the taxpayer? The whole thing is turning into a very bad joke.

The official excuse (being reliably trotted out over at The Standard) is that high oil prices will do more than the ETS would. There's some truth in this - high oil prices have effectively capped usage by driving people towards more fuel efficient vehicles - but the problem is that oil prices can drop. In case everyone's forgotten, there's an election in the US later this year, which will likely remove the "Bush premium" from the price of oil. And there are predictions that prices will also drop over the next one to two years as demand drops due to global recession, before picking back up again. So unless the next occupant of the White House is as mad and stupid as the current one, or Bush starts another endless war before he leaves, whoever is in government in 2010 is going to face exactly the same pressure to give polluters a free ride as Labour is facing now. And like 2008, 2011 is an election year...

Meanwhile, the government's veto on regional fuel taxes - also driven by an effort to inoculate against claims that they are responsible for rising petrol prices - will deprive local councils of the very tool they need to reduce emissions and provide people with an alternative to cars. So we get the worst of both worlds: unfettered pollution, and no funding to prevent it. So much for Labour and sustainability.

The Greens aren't taking this lying down, and have declared that they will not vote for an environmentally compromised ETS. Which means the government will be dependent solely on National to pass it. It's a dangerous gambit - National's natural inclination will be to weaken the scheme further - but if they want to renege on their commitments, they can do it without the Greens' stamp of approval.