by Peter Castellas, Chief Executive Officer of the Carbon Market Institute.
“War (huh) – what is it good for? Absolutely nothing”
– Edwin Starr
This song is stuck in my head after attending the book launch today of “Climate Wars”, Mark Butler, the Opposition Energy and Climate Minister’s timely narrative of a “decade of disappointment” that has led to Australia still in a bizarre political stand-off over action on climate change.
It was 10 years ago this month that an ambitious Environment Minister, Malcom Turnbull announced that the 11 year-old Howard Government would introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme that would be ‘the most comprehensive in the world’ – 10 years ago!
Mark Butler’s book recounts the tragic twists in climate policy since that tantalising moment of bipartisanship. The book highlights a lost opportunity for Australia to take a leadership position on a globally significant issue of economic and environmental importance.
It is almost uniquely in Australia where the political divide runs so deep. Even somewhere like the UK with all its challenges of Brexit and a hung parliament election there remains a steadfast cross-party commitment to strong action and a long-term carbon price signal. Last week I was fortunate to have dinner with a number of vising Indian MPs who represented a diverse array of parties and included coal barons, members of the Government’s energy committee and tribal leaders. In the world’s largest democracy, they represented a position that was united and indeed proud of the stance the Indian Prime Minister has taken on climate change.
The period of what seems like policy limbo and inertia that has settled over Canberra has to change. There is too much at stake to drift at a time when many of our competitor countries are driving ahead with clear long-term market signals and investing in the long term low carbon economic transition.
It is also perhaps up to the business and finance community to make a better case for the cost of inaction. It was also 10 years ago that the landmark review by Lord Stern drew the conclusion that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of doing nothing. The case to act decisively was compelling then and it is even more compelling now.
A number of submissions to the Government’s climate policy review highlight the costs of not acting on climate change, with perhaps the damage to the Barrier Reef and the industries that support it being the clearest case of economic, environmental and social value at risk.
It may be frustrating to think that the Australian political climate wars are going to continue. But if they are, we need to prepare the soldiers in the army that will need to fight the good fight. We need to arm professionals with the tools and skills and to participate in the zero-carbon transition that is already underway. This is the time to prepare for the challenging battle to combat climate change that will inevitably dawn again in Australia. It’s a war we have to win.