In amongst all the massive cuts predicted in this week’s budget, the Government’s Direct Action climate policy will be one, rather isolated, piece of new spending.
Despite threats from Clive Palmer that he will vote against the carbon tax repeal if he can’t vote against the policy, the Government has confirmed a commitment to include the $2.55 billion needed for the Direct Action in this year’s budget.
As the details have come out about Direct Action over the past few weeks it has confirmed everyone’s worst fears. As expected, the policy is, at best extremely weak, and at worst something that is worse than nothing. Time and time again Direct Action has proven itself to be expensive and ineffective; a system that effectively hands out cash to big polluters for very little gain.
In the fight against the billions of wasted money on Direct Action however it is important we don’t let its philosophy die with it. Because whilst Mr Abbott’s policy is a joke, he has introduced an extremely important concept to our climate debate – one that we need to use to reduce our carbon emissions.
Real direct action would go to source of our carbon emissions, cutting out any middle-man and stopping the possibly for pollution to happen in the first place. And in doing so we can save our budget billions – money that could then be redirected into cleaner and safer energy sources.
For years now, our climate policy debate has been focused on the use of market mechanisms as a tool to halt emissions. The theory has been simple. Put a price on carbon, and emitters will cut their pollution. It is a form of indirect action – change the mechanisms and hope the market reacts. Do not directly intervene in how the market is working.
This has become the faith of climate policy makers all around the world – to the point where it is seen as the only solution to the problem. But in doing so that has become a part of the problem.
Market mechanisms can only do so much. In a world where we need to make change quickly, they can often be used as a smokescreen for inaction. This is highlighted by the fact that despite the implementation of a price on carbon, both current and previous governments continued to offer mass subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Australia’s carbon price has been in operation for well over two years now, and whilst we have witnessed a fall in domestic emissions, our exported emissions continue to soar as coal companies steam ahead with new coal mine operations – indicating that market based mechanisms alone are insufficient.
And so direct action is needed – and it is needed now. This is not Direct Action in Tony Abbott’s sense, but instead a form of direct action that takes on big polluters rather than solely hoping the market will solve the problem for us.
That means a lot of things. First should be a ban on all new coal mines and coal operations. As we get further down the rabbit hole of a warmer world, we can no longer afford to burn the coal we are already digging up, let alone any more. Building on this, we need a timeline to phase out all of our current coal operations, as well as our gas and oil mining.
And we can and should take direct action with our finances too. That can mean removing all subsidies from the fossil fuel industry, divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing more heavily in renewable energy. The IPCC for example argues that $30 billion needs to be divested from the fossil fuel industry whilst investment in renewable energy needs to be tripled. The Government’s plan for example to cut the diesel fuel rebate would have been a good start to this process – a plan it seems like they unfortunately jettisoned due to pressure from the mining industry.
But this highlights the power of a real direct action policy. Real direct action would go to source of our carbon emissions, cutting out any middle-man and stopping the possibly for pollution to happen in the first place. And in doing so we can save our budget billions – money that could then be redirected into cleaner and safer energy sources.
Around the country the community has already recognised this is the sort of direct action we need. People are divesting their money and taking action at the coal face. But we need that to translate into real policy – a direct action policy that will actually work.
Direct action is essential to solving climate change. It’s just that Tony Abbott has got its details terribly wrong. Whilst the carbon price may be having an impact the relentless pace of the fossil fuel industry shows that it is simply not enough. We need to directly intervene. Our community is already doing so – it is time our Government did as well.
Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.