Environmental Policy Analysis

Yesterday I reviewed the educational policy directions for the Greens, Labor and Coalition parties for tomorrow’s federal election.  With Australia now on the eve of the big vote, literally, there is no time like the present for us to have a look at their environmental policies.

Environmental issues are dear to all readers of this blog and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important our natural world is to the economic and social well-being of all people.  Not to mention the importance to other species we share this beautiful planet with.

There are a complex raft of different policies from the three sides of politics and I’ll attempt to summarise them as best as I can.

Labor

Some Labor policies on the environmental front are quite progressive, the main one being a commitment to a carbon price through an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  Kevin Rudd wants to transition from the current Carbon Tax to the ETS by mid-2014, a year ahead of the original date.  The difference between a tax and an ETS is not small, however the core point is they both place a price on carbon pollution, which encourages innovation in energy conservation and production so as to save money by reducing pollution.

The unfortunate side of Labor’s climate change policies is a weak 5-25% reduction of carbon emissions (based on the year 2000 levels) by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050.  I say “weak” because the consensus by climate scientists is that the world must reduce emissions by 25-40% by 2020 to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.  Mind you, a 2 degree warming will still cause significant harm to ecosystems, communities and economies around the world.

Labor will also maintain funding to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and keep their current 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, but plan to review it in 2016.

Unfortunately, Labor seem to be fairly quiet on environmental policies outside of the climate change sphere.  The only positive one that stands out is their $56 million feasibility study into Fast Rail linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.  While it is only a small step forward, it is a step in the right direction.  Fast Rail will help to reduce transport related carbon pollution by reducing car and plane travel between the regions and East coast cities.

On the negative front, Labor plan to cut the Biodiversity Fund from $1 billion to $400 million, decrease Landcare funding and not renew funding at all for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility is a step backward.  They have also ruled out putting a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration, as requested by conservationists and farmers across Australia.

Their policy is to oppose nuclear power generation but support uranium mining.  However there is no sign of any policy on a sustainable population.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition are diametrically opposed to the Labor Party with regards to climate change.  They intend to completely remove a price on carbon pollution and instead rely on a Direct Action Policy of tree planting and energy efficiency measures paid for by government grants.  This will be a voluntary initiative for businesses but if it is widely adopted there is a funding cap and Tony Abbott has already ruled out increasing the fund even if it doesn’t meet their own weak targets of 5-25% carbon pollution reduction by 2020 (from 2000 levels).  This is a distinct back-flip on their previous commitments to reduce carbon pollution.  Furthermore, economists say that the Direct Action strategy will cost far more per tonne of carbon than a Carbon Tax or ETS.

The Liberals also plan to axe the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Biodiversity Fund and a host of other incentives linked to the Carbon Tax.

Like Labor, they are still committed to a 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, but will review it in 2014.  Unlike the Labor Party, they will renew funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, however.

On a positive note, they plan to introduce an unemployed work program called the Green Army.  This is a just a renaming of the old Green Corps, Work for the Dole and LEAP programs of years gone by.  These programs do have good outcomes in terms of giving meaningful work and environmental education to disadvantaged youth, however I do question the quality of the on-ground work and the fate of existing contractors who currently do the work earmarked to be taken over by the Green Army.

The Coalition plan to introduce a Threatened Species Commissioner, but there is no detail on what powers or resources this person will have.

They have also committed to a $40 million trust fund to combat threats against the Great Barrier Reef, such as the Crown of Thorns Starfish, however it must be noted that occurrence of this invasive species is linked to poor stormwater quality from the land, so without addressing the runoff, the Crown of Thorns will continue to proliferate and damage the Reef.

I’m afraid that’s about all the positive things I can say about Liberal and National environmental policies.

They are committed to building more roads, a strategy that has been proved time and time again around the world to promote car use and increase congestion, let alone carbon emissions. They also plan to delegate some of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act powers to the states, decrease Landcare funding, slow the water buyback in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and remove funding for research into how art can affect people’s behaviour on reducing carbon pollution.

Like Labor, they will not put a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration, but they are also not opposed to nuclear power generation or uranium mining in Australia.  Nor do they have a sustainable population policy.

Worryingly, an Abbott government will remove World Heritage listing for Tasmania’s tall forests and discard Marine Protected Areas in Commonwealth waters.  Both are retrograde actions.

The Greens

The Greens are committed to maintaining a price on carbon with the current Carbon Tax and moving to the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2015 as initially planned.  Their emissions targets are much more ambitious, through a reduction of carbon pollution by 25-40% by 2020, based on 1990 levels, and for Australia to have no net emissions by 2050.

Like the other major parties, they have a 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, but also include a 90% target by 2030.  They also plan to maintain funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Like Labor, the Greens want to develop Fast Rail for the East coast, but unlike any other parties, they also want to increase Landcare funding, oppose both nuclear power and uranium mining, increase Threatened Species funding by $120 million over three years and increase climate risk mitigation funding to $350 million, up from a paltry $50 million.

The Greens also promise to block the handover of EPBC Act powers to the states and improve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to allow the return of 3200 GL of water back to the river.

Their policies on the Great Barrier Reef are equally admirable.  They plan to ban  dredging and dumping of dredge spoil in World Heritage waters, undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the Reef prior to any other developmental approval and stop any new coal and gas ports in the vicinity of it.  By increasing funding to farmers to improve water runoff quality to the tune of $25 million per year and increasing the funding to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, they hope to also improve the overall health of the Reef and help it adapt to climate change.

They want to give farmers the right to say “no” to coal and gas mining on their land and fund independent monitoring of methane pollution from coal seam gas mines.

And they haven’t forgotten the small policies with a $5 million per year strategy to train and support wildlife carers throughout Australia.

The Greens do have a policy on population but it doesn’t set any limits.  Rather, it suggests that Australia’s and the world’s environmental capacity should be considered when a decision is made.  They also want to increase foreign aid funding, including a commitment to family planning and empowering women in developing countries.

You can further explore these policies through some of the following links:

http://www.liberal.org.au/our-plan/environment

http://greens.org.au/environment

http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2013/policy/climate-change/

http://theconversation.com/topics/federal-election-2013

http://foe.org.au/articles/2013-08-21/federal-election-2013

http://theconversation.com/should-offsets-fund-the-coalitions-reef-plan-17762

http://theconversation.com/soft-targets-no-caps-hot-world-abbott-clarifies-his-position-on-climate-policy-17761

http://theconversation.com/the-power-of-the-fragment-why-politicians-have-turned-their-backs-on-climate-17640

I hope that this analysis has helped you rate each of the major parties ahead of your vote.  Incidentally, tomorrow is also Threatened Species Day, so do something positive for our planet’s biodiversity and make your vote count.

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