The Prime Minister’s Task Group on Emissions Trading gives its report to the PM today and is expected to recommend the introduction of a national emissions trading scheme in Australia.
I have been pretty sceptical about the taskgroup, given its membership: of the twelve members, five are from within the government, three are from mining / resources companies, one is from a power company, two are from heavy energy users (aluminium and airline companies). Only one (from National Australia Bank) is not from a heavy greenhouse-gas-emitting company. There are no representatives from outside government or big business and no businesses that would have an interest in a strong trading scheme (eg, insurers, agriculture, tourism, renewable energy).
The group is also repeating work that has been done pretty thoroughly already: the National Emissions Trading Taskforce was established by the Australian states and territories in January 2004. It presented key design propositions for a successful trading scheme later in 2004, issued a background paper and undertook public consultation in 2005, and presented a proposed trading scheme in August last year. As far as I’m aware, the federal government declined to have any involvement in the NETT process. The states and territories have committed to a national state-based scheme by 2010 if the federal government fails to introduce its own national scheme.
And the terms of reference themselves seem to suggest the result:
Australia enjoys major competitive advantages through the possession of large reserves of fossil fuels and uranium. In assessing Australia's further contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these advantages must be preserved.
Against this background the Task Group will be asked to advise on the nature and design of a workable global emissions trading system in which Australia would be able to participate. The Task Group will advise and report on additional steps that might be taken, in Australia, consistent with the goal of establishing such a system.
Nevertheless, the media are tipping that the taskforce will recommend a national trading scheme. If so, it’s remarkable that the government lags behind even the most reactionary businesses with the most to lose from action on climate change. Why does the PM have to wait until even coal miners and electricity generators call for some action on climate change?
Clive Hamilton has an article today suggesting 7 tests for a decent trading system, which I think are pretty sensible. In summary they are:
1. Comprehensive coverage of the main emissions sources.
2. A clear target.
3. No loopholes. (Hamilton reckons there shouldn’t be offsets or credits from actions like planting trees. I disagree, but the challenge is ensuring that offsets are genuine and robust.)
4. Permits should be auctioned, not handed out to existing big polluters for free.
5. It should be able to link in with foreign schemes.
6. Allow the market to work unconstrained.
7. Ensure medium-term economic certainty (ie, fixed emissions caps) but longer-term flexibility to adjust caps if necessary.
We should see the report later today or tomorrow – it will be interesting to see what it says. The PM will apparently respond on Sunday. The opposition has attempted to steal the PM's thunder by issuing its own policies today (including a national emissions trading scheme by 2010 coupled with a mandatory renewable energy target) – they are mostly pretty good but I’m not sure there’s anything new there they haven’t announced before.