The Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, had a go at Tony Abbott’s climate-change policy earlier this month, but the Opposition Leader would not be drawn into battle. Inasmuch as I understand that policy, it dispenses with a carbon tax, but involves initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through planting trees, improving the fertility of soils and other ‘direct action’ strategies.
If reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the goal, then there is certainly nothing wrong with these mechanisms. Of course, if you think it’s not nearly enough, you’ll want a carbon tax and another Kyoto, though it’s not at all clear that these mechanisms actually reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
A lot of AGW sceptics want Tony Abbott to use the election campaign to denounce the carbon tax and what they see as the whole AGW fantasy. Look, they say, even the head of the IPCC agrees that the planet hasn’t warmed for 17 years, we’re getting floods instead of the unending drought, winters are becoming more severe in the Northern Hemisphere — what more do you want? The time to speak plainly is now!
I don’t believe that he will do any such thing. Two national opinion polls in a row have the Coalition well ahead, and he himself ahead of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is meeting and greeting in Sydney’s western suburbs in the hope that she can turn sentiment around there. Her opponent is on top, and most of the work to put him there has been done by the Government itself. It is deeply unpopular, and while the carbon tax is part of that unpopularity, there are many other reasons for it as well, which I’ve discussed here on several occasions. There is no point at all in his advocating a policy that still has many opponents. His best plan, which he seems to be following, is to let the Government do all the work, and present himself as the patiently waiting future Prime Minister, able to bring back sense and stability into his suffering country.
Nor is there much point in his talking about how he will end the carbon tax when the Coalition is in power. First, there is always danger in presuming, when there are still more than six months to go. Second, even if the Coalition wins power in the House of Representatives it will not have a majority in the Senate, which is likely to reject any bill to end the tax. If he places that issue very high, then the only option for him is a double dissolution early in the life of the new Parliament.
I don’t think that talking about a double dissolution is a vote-winner. On my reading of the tea-leaves the electorate is fed up with the Gillard Government, and wants an end to it. I doubt that the carbon tax is central in its concerns, though winter energy bills will be going into letter-boxes around the time of the election, and their size won’t help the Government. ‘Climate change’ has been slipping steadily down the list of concerns for the electorate over the past five years, and the weather we have been experiencing (yes, I know that weather is not climate) is quite different to that predicted by the climate alarmists. For most people, in my opinion, ‘climate change’ is no longer really important.
For that reason I doubt that the Government will want to emphasise it either, in its later campaigning. Yes, there are stalwarts out there for whom this is the issue for all humanity. But the Greens represent their natural home. Labor’s western suburbs constituency is worried about making ends meet, housing prices and traffic chaos, not ‘climate change’.
If I am right, then you won’t hear much about the issue during the campaign. And that would be a pity, because ‘climate change’ has been such a central issue for the electorates in Western countries over the last decade. It reached its height when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore in 2007, and then appeared likely to prompt an international agreement about mitigation in the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen Conference of December 2009.
But the Copenhagen Conference was a flop, and Nature showed what it thought about warming by dumping a huge snowfall on the city. The issue never regained its momentum, and the Gillard Government’s passage of the carbon tax legislation was against the flow. Since then, carbon credits have become virtually unsaleable in Europe, which makes our tax, linked to the European system from 2015, look ineffectual. Solar and wind energy have lost their lustre and much of their subsidy, and there is mounting popular opposition to any more wind turbines.
All in all, this is not an issue that is likely to gain the Government any votes, and I expect it to receive the soft pedal in the month ahead. That will reduce the need for the Coalition to say anything much about it. And to repeat, that’s a pity, because we have never had a really thoroughgoing debate on it — and it’s such an interesting issue, in every way!