Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Australia Seeks A Climate Of Persuasion

Greg Barns – Updated on Jul 16, 2008 – SCMP

China is looming large over the Australian government’s efforts to tackle climate change. That was made clear this week in a clash between two economic heavyweights: Harvard University’s Jeffrey Sachs and the Australian governments’ chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut.

Professor Garnaut, a former ambassador to China, has been heading a taskforce on climate change policy. Appointed by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd shortly after he assumed office in November last year, Professor Garnaut has recently released a report which has, as its centrepiece, an emissions trading scheme.

The introduction of such a scheme, which will effectively tax heavy greenhouse gas emitters, is not dependent on the introduction of similar schemes overseas, particularly in major polluters such as China and India. And this is where the controversy lies.

Speaking at the Australian National University’s annual China Update on Monday, Professor Sachs, who advises UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that China would never sign up to any emissions trading scheme.

According to media reports, Professor Sachs said: “We’re going to get agreement by showing a path, and saying to [nations like] China, first, we understand that your desire to catch up [in living standards] is non-negotiable. Yes, we need [carbon] pricing. I actually believe it will come country by country, and not by a global agreement.”

Professor Garnaut disagrees. Under his plan, Australia should move quickly to introduce an emissions trading scheme and seek to influence countries like China, India and Indonesia to follow suit. As he said last week: “The arithmetic of solving the global problem doesn’t work unless China plays a substantial role from an early date.”

The message that Professor Sachs conveyed to Australia is manna from heaven for those who argue that Australia should not sacrifice economic growth for the sake of showing global leadership on climate change, while China continues on its merry way.

Some unions and businesses fear that, if Australia heads down the path of an emissions trading scheme while China does not, investment will simply relocate.

So is Australia being gullible in thinking that it can persuade China to take radical action on climate change in the short term by introducing an emissions trading scheme? Maybe, but Australia has never been better placed to work with China given Professor Garnaut’s credentials and, of course, those of Mr Rudd – the only western leader to speak Putonghua.

There were similar voices of doom when Australia began to radically reduce trade barriers two decades ago. Since then, trade flows between Australia and Asia have soared as a result of greater trade liberalisation. And one of the architects of Australia’s bold trade strategy was Professor Garnaut, as economic adviser to prime minister Bob Hawke in the 1980s.

Greg Barns is a political commentator in Australia and a former Australian government adviser

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *