This report has concentrated on the changes to the CPRS since the
exposure draft. However, as the committee also received evidence on the CPRS
more broadly, it may be useful to summarise the Committee's overall view of the
problem of climate change and how the CPRS addresses it.
The global challenge of climate change
The Committee believes the world should act to limit the concentration
of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is not an article of faith. It is a
matter of prudent risk management. The earth is warming. If no action is taken,
the overwhelming majority of expert scientific opinion holds that average
temperatures will rise further, almost certainly leading to further changes in
the global climate with severe consequences for humanity and terminal
consequences for many other species, but that this can be limited if
anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are restricted.
The Committee sees no reason to question the judgement of the national
academies of science of all the world's leading countries on this matter.
It also notes that none of the witnesses appearing before it, even those most
critical of the CPRS, argued that the science was wrong.
It is still not completely impossible that these scientific experts are misguided.
But it would be folly to assume they must be wrong. Even if there
were only a modest chance that the scientists are right, a prudent approach is
to take out some insurance by acting now to reduce global emissions.
The most important action to take is to correct the global market
failure that has led to excessive emissions of greenhouse gases. This is that
for most of human history those parties responsible for greenhouse gas
emissions have not had to pay for the consequences of them. This has led to a
'tragedy of the commons' on a global scale. Putting an appropriate price on
these emissions, which can be done in a number of ways, is an effective
response to the problem. Economic theory suggests it should be the lowest cost
means of addressing the problem.
Tackling climate change has been described as 'a diabolical policy
not only because it requires a global solution, but because of the
intertemporal aspect. There will be costs, albeit modest, incurred by this
generation to avoid much greater costs for future generations.
The Committee believes that the welfare of these future generations
matters and should be taken into account in forming current policy. It notes
that for some submitters, this view is reinforced by religious convictions:
The Uniting Church’s commitment to the environment arises out
of the Christian belief that God, as the Creator of the universe, calls us into
a special relationship with the environment – a relationship of mutuality and
interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God. We
believe that God’s will for the earth is renewal and reconciliation, not
destruction by human beings.
Australia's role in limiting climate change
Australia should play its 'fair share' in this global endeavour. As the
Senate Economics Committee commented recently:
Indeed, as one of the world's highest per capita emitters of
greenhouse gases, one of the world's wealthiest countries, one of the major
beneficiaries of past greenhouse gas emissions, one of the countries best
endowed with renewable energy sources and one of the countries that would
suffer most from further climate change, there is a strong case that Australia
should be willing to make a more than proportionate contribution to this global
There is now broad political agreement that Australia's contribution to
a global agreement that is likely to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees
should be at least around a 25 per cent reduction in annual emissions from 1990
to 2020. A 25 per cent reduction in the context of a global agreement is the
policy of the Government and the Opposition. The Australian Greens and Senator
Xenophon want to do more.
What type of scheme?
While there is an important role for complementary measures, the primary
way that Australia should limit its emissions is by establishing a price on
carbon. This could be done by various types of emissions trading schemes or
carbon taxes or hybrids.
The Committee notes that there has already been exhaustive analyses of
these alternative schemes, and a consensus established preferring an emissions
trading scheme over a carbon tax or hybrid measure.
For example, the Howard Government's task force concluded:
Of the market-based instruments, emissions trading should be
preferred to a carbon tax. Emissions trading will ensure that the policy focus
remains on the ultimate environmental objective of reducing the output of
greenhouse gases. It is also likely to be a central part of the emerging global
response to climate change.
The Garnaut Review for the current government concluded:
In Australia's circumstances, a well-designed
emissions trading scheme is superior to a carbon tax.
Some people may state a preference for a carbon tax, either because in
its textbook form it is simpler, or just because a further investigation would
be the pretext for further delaying the introduction of any scheme. However the
Committee agreed with the majority of witnesses that it remains preferable to
stay with the cap-and-trade model:
Our investigation of carbon tax is that the simplicity
benefits are very much overstated. You have exactly the same measurement
problems, exactly the same reporting issues, exactly the same issues involved
as for trade-exposed, emissions-intensive industries and indeed trade-exposed businesses
generally. Much of the complexity revolves around measurement and reporting and
the majority of the complexity revolves around the issues that would be common
to a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.
...there is nothing simpler about a carbon tax than what we
actually have in terms of an emissions trading scheme. If you look at the
details of the bills before us, the vast majority of the bills would have to
cover issues which you would have to cover in a carbon tax. So fundamentally
the issue of who would be a liable party, the way in which emissions would be
monitored, reported and verified, the extent to which you would provide any
exemptions or removal of liability, all those questions would arise under a
carbon tax as would apply under an emissions trading scheme.
The arguments about the relative merits of a carbon tax and ETS have
been discussed in the series of reports and inquiries. The Committee has not
seen any evidence that would lead it to suggest that this issue needs to be
examined yet again. The main piece of new information since the earlier
inquiries is that other countries introducing a carbon price have mostly chosen
to do so using a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme rather than a carbon
tax or other model.
Nor will the negotiations at Copenhagen on national targets provide any
further guidance on the choice between a carbon tax and an ETS (see Chapter 5).
While negotiations are proceeding on the exact form of the ETS in the United
States, it seems clear that a carbon tax is already off the table there.
The costs of acting or not acting
The Stern Review, still the major economic study on the topic,
compared the short-term costs of taking action to reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions with the long-term costs of allowing climate change to take its
course. Its conclusion was that, if you care about future generations, there is
a clear case for action:
Using the results from formal economic models, the review
estimates that if we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change
will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and
forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the
estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.
In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas
emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to
around 1% of global GDP each year. 
The Garnaut Review looked at similar issues from an Australian
perspective. It concluded:
Mitigation on the basis of 550 [ppm atmospheric concentration
of CO2e] objectives was judged to generate benefits that exceeded
the costs. Mitigation on the basis of 450 was thought to generate larger net
benefits than 550.
The costs of well-designed mitigation, substantial as they
are, would not end economic growth in Australia, its developing country
neighbours, or the global economy. Unmitigated climate change probably would.
The Treasury modelling had a narrower focus. It concluded that
introducing the CPRS could shave around 0.1 per cent off annual economic
growth, but this would still imply a 60 per cent increase in real per capita
incomes by 2050.
Such a small reduction in economic growth is well below plausible estimates of
the costs of allowing unchecked climate change.
The conclusions of the modelling is now accepted by the business
We agree with the issue that the costs of not acting on
climate change at a global level are greater than the cost of acting on global
climate change. I do not think very many people seriously dispute that.
The employment implications of the CPRS
The main argument put by opponents of the CPRS during this inquiry was
its alleged adverse impact on employment.
The Minerals Council of Australia, in its evidence to the committee and
in the media more generally, drew on modelling it had commissioned from Dr
Fisher from Concept Economics to make the following alarmist claims:
Carbon plan will cause jobs carnage ... a steady drain of jobs
out of the industry and out of the regional communities that depend on them.
The Concept Economics modelling shows that 23,510 direct jobs
will be lost...[the CPRS] will eliminate jobs.
However, as was pointed out to the Committee:
Even if you have the modelling that I think was reported by
the Minerals Council in the paper today, which talks about there being an
aggregate effect and which talks about a loss of jobs, you have to understand
that that does not necessarily imply that employment in absolute value is going
down; it is just that the growth of employment is lower than it would have
Earlier evidence from the Council implied that, in the business-as-usual
case, the mining sector would have employed an additional 80,000 workers by
So even taking the modelling results at face value, after the introduction of
the CPRS, there would be an increase of over 50,000 jobs in mining. Pushed on
this point, the Minerals Council conceded:
...we are not suggesting this is scorched earth. We know we are
going to continue to grow.
Downplayed by the Minerals Council, and ignored totally in their
calculations of employment multipliers, are the increases in jobs in other
parts of the economy. Many of these would be 'green jobs', such as producing
renewable energy or retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Like mining jobs, a large proportion of these will be located in regional
The implications of not passing the CPRS
Delaying action is not economically responsible. Rather, delaying action
will have a range of negative effects on the Australian economy, including
deterring investment decisions and delaying business planning decisions where
the price of carbon is a feature of those decisions.
In 2007, the Shergold Report expressed the fear that 'waiting
until a truly global response emerges before imposing an emissions cap will
place costs on Australia by increasing business uncertainty and delaying or
Evidence before the committee indicates this fear was fully warranted.
Business is fully cognisant of these difficulties, understands that they
affect a wide range of both low-carbon and emission intensive industries, and
expects the Australian Parliament to take action to resolve them this year:
The issue that we face is that there is a strong political
will and popular will to have Australia act on climate change. In view of that
we assess that business needs to know for investment certainty reasons and
business planning reasons—it needs to get a better picture of what that policy
direction will be in order to make investments. This applies in for example the
renewable area; it applies in the electricity generation area; it applies in a
whole lot of areas ... Our position is that we ought to have legislation this
Emission intensive industries need the benefit of a framework within
which they can acknowledge their carbon liabilities in order to move forward.
In particular, the business community is concerned that a failure to act could
have adverse implications for the security of Australia's electricity supply:
We think that in order to secure ongoing electricity supply
in Australia we need to make investments very soon. That has been quite
apparent for some time.
Those with an interest in the development of low carbon industries are
also concerned that business opportunities will be missed if the Australian
Parliament fails to provide a framework to guide investment decisions in those
In many ways, if Australia does not get on board this train
soon, we will be left behind. Our tragic history is one of coming up with the
good ideas, but allowing that to go overseas for jobs and profit. We have seen
that in solar technology and other technologies.
The dangers of uncertainty for business were clearly identified by the
Australian Bankers' Association’s late submission to the committee:
Climate change has considerable economic, social,
environmental and business risks. Continuing uncertainty is disrupting the
efficiency of existing markets as well as creating difficulties with regards to
financing terms and investment decisions. Australia needs leadership and early
action to provide business, investment, operational and market certainty. It is
important for Australia to take action now and minimise the impacts of
The Australian Bankers' Association also clearly identified business
opportunities that will be lost if action is not taken now:
Climate change also presents considerable opportunities.
Trading, product creation and ancillary services (including risk consulting,
funds management, legal and accounting) should be developed as export services
regionally and globally... It is important for Australia to take action now and
take advantage of the opportunity to position itself as a ‘carbon hub’ within
the Asia-Pacific region.
Ongoing uncertainty about how carbon will be priced will have a
deadening effect on our industrial innovation and competitiveness. Australia
will lack a coherent framework to guide the economy through the transition to a
low carbon economy. Rewards could be distorted – industries of the future will
struggle to get off the ground while those that must adapt will put off
The alternative is to give Australian industry every opportunity to
adapt swiftly and seamlessly to the reality of a carbon-constrained future by
encouraging and supporting industry to continue to improve its performance in
relation to emissions and to take advantage of emerging opportunities in a
carbon-constrained environment, while maintaining its competitiveness.
If the CPRS is not passed, the problem of climate change will not go
away. It just means that second-best, more costly, measures will have to be
adopted to meet any targets to which Australia agrees at Copenhagen and/or more
drastic cuts will have to be made to emissions at a later date:
One of our fears is that there will be a further
proliferation of other regulatory measures if a scheme is not introduced.
The Committee understands that some environmental groups do not regard
the CPRS as going far enough. But it asks them not to, in Voltaire's words,
'make the perfect the enemy of the good'. Rejecting the CPRS will not lead to
the passing of a much stricter scheme – it will lead to a less effective
approach to meeting the Government's targets. And it will weaken Australia's
ability to push for serious action at Copenhagen.
If the case is made for stronger targets, and there is international
will to pursue them, then under regulations – or if necessary by amending the
legislation – the targets under the CPRS can then be tightened. But if there is
no CPRS, and no targets, there is nothing to be tightened and no response to be
6.38 The Committee recommends that the Senate pass the bills.
Senator Annette Hurley
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