New Aussie PM abandons climate change cuts

After his recent election, Australia’s new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was expected to bring in sweeping cuts to Australia’s carbon emissions. In fact, immediately after entering office, Rudd signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, thereby committing Australia to cutting its carbon emissions to 8 percent above 1990 levels. He had promised to make climate change the priority of his new government throughout the run up to the election.

The opposition leader who is front-runner to win elections in Australia this weekend placed climate change as his top priority, and urged voters to dump the longserving government in favor of younger leadership who can keep pace in a fast-changing world.

Interestingly, however, the “fast-changing world” appears to have been moving a whole lot faster than Prime Minister Rudd imagined. In an unexpected 180 degree shift, Rudd backed away from some short-term carbon reduction promises, choosing instead to focus on cuts that are spread out over a longer time period.

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd last night did an about-face on deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, days after Australia’s delegation backed the plan at the climate talks in Bali.

A government representative at the talks this week said Australia backed a 25-40 per cent cut on 1990 emission levels by 2020.

But after warnings it would lead to huge rises in electricity prices, Mr Rudd said the Government would not support the target.

The repudiation of the delegate’s position represents the first stumble by the new Government’s in its approach to climate change.

Mr Rudd said he supported a longer-term greenhouse emissions cut of 60 per cent of 2000 levels by 2050.

The reality of worldwide increasing demand for always-on electrical power, coupled with the demand for low rates demonstrates that the drastic cuts that Rudd and others have championed are just plain unrealistic.

If we are to have abundant AND affordable energy, we need to recognize that, with current technologies, there will be a certain level of unavoidable CO2 emissions. Drastic cuts to CO2 emissions will require increased costs, or decreased reliability. There is simply no easy way around this fact. Economists and utilities in Australia appear to have made this clear to the fledgling Rudd government.

The electricity industry yesterday warned it may not be able to meet growing consumer demand and comply with the 2020 target.

Energy Supply Association of Australia chief executive Brad Page said a 17 per cent power price rise in Victoria would seem “pretty modest” compared with the cost of complying with the target.

An ESAA report released this year found cutting carbon emissions by 30 per cent of 2000 levels by 2030 wold push up power costs by 30 per cent.

Mr Page said the cost of meeting the higher target by 2020 would be much more as low-cost, green-generation technology would not be available for more than 10 years.

“You are dependent on yet-to-be delivered technology,” he said.

“The community needs to be aware cuts of this magnitude will come at considerable cost and it’s difficult to know how exactly it will be delivered.”

Often the rhetoric surrounding climate change is so emotionally-laden that it is difficult to step back and take a realist look at what needs to be done to ensure a clean, stable, and affordable electrical system. With the solutions to the challenge having such far-reaching, environmental, social, and economic impacts, it is important that quick decisions and off-the-cuff remarks not be allowed to take over the development of energy policy.

06. December 2007 by
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