<a href="http://www.gmagazine.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

State governments backtrack on climate change


Credit: sxc.hu

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The climate change battle is coming under pressure from state governments. The result: it will increase emissions. Australia, as the Garnaut review points out, already has the highest per capita emissions in the OECD and among the highest in the world. Action has to be local, and if state governments are sabotaging it, emissions will continue to rise.

In Queensland, according to the latest report, the newly elected government of Campbell Newman plans to split the Department of Environment and Resource Management with the word environment taken out. In its place, there will be two new departments – Resource Management, and Mining and Energy. The Newman government plans to abolish eight of Labor’s environmental funds, including the solar flagships program, the $300 million climate change fund, the $50 million renewable energy fund, the Queensland Smart Energy Savings Fund, the Queensland Future Growth Fund, the Solar Initiatives Package, the Waste Avoidance and Resource Efficiency Fund and Local Government Sustainable Future Fund. A government policy document describes the schemes as “redundant and a waste of taxpayer’s money in light of the federal government’s mandated Renewable Energy Target and the carbon tax.” It says any state-based scheme will simply mean Queenslanders will be paying for other states to emit more,” the document says. The carbon schemes are a “luxury Queensland just can’t afford.”

Newman has also ordered Anna Bligh's husband, Greg Withers who heads the office of climate change, to begin dismantling green energy programs he helped create. And he has pulled funding on the Solar Dawn project, a 250 megawatt solar thermal project using sun-heated water in tubes to produce steam-driven energy which would have been the first chance to test whether solar thermal energy could provide large-scale alternative power in Australia. During the state election campaign, Newman proclaimed that he wanted to dismantle Queensland’s carbon reduction schemes to save $270 million for the state budget and his government is slashing environmental spending to offset the federal carbon tax.

Shortly after it was elected, the O’Farrell government in New South Wales unveiled plans to abolish the Environment Department with the environmentally sensitive work of marine parks management and decisions about land clearing transferred to other parts of government. There was also the surprise exclusion from cabinet of the Coalition's environment spokeswoman, Catherine Cusack who has been subject of attacks by the Shooters and Fishers Party, whose votes O’Farrell needs to get legislation through the upper house.

The NSW government has also introduced legislation allowing mining companies to explore for uranium in NSW.

In Victoria, the Baillieu government has abandoned plans to cut Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent over the next decade. The Baillieu government has found ‘‘no compelling case’’ to keep the target following the introduction of the Commonwealth’s minimum target to cut emissions by 5 per cent, to be mainly achieved through Labor’s carbon tax. Like its counterparts in Queensland, it argues that keeping the larger state target operating with a smaller national target would put a disproportionately large burden on Victoria, with no benefit to the environment because other states would do less.

The Baillieu government has also introduced the most restrictive planning laws for wind farms, making them just about impossible to set up. It has given households power to veto wind turbines within two kilometres of their homes, banned turbines in the Macedon and McHarg ranges, in the Yarra Valley, on the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, and within five kilometres of the Great Ocean Road and the Bass Coast and prohibited them within five kilometres of 21 Victorian regional centres. This has the potential to cost the state $3 billion in investment as renewables companies start looking elsewhere.

Still, others have pointed out that the
problem lies with the Gillard Government’s scheme. The point out that if state governments, councils, businesses or households voluntarily cut emissions beyond what’s legally required, all it does it is free up more permits for other emitters to use, so their efforts don’t cut the total amount of carbon emissions. The politicians and bureaucrats in Canberra can fix this.

But with flaws in the Government scheme and state governments winding back programs to stop climate change, Australia will end up generating even more emissions and losing billions in investment.