The minister said we are in what has been termed "the critical decade" when we can address climate change most effectively. He claimed that Australia had made "real progress" in tackling climate change. That might be true in political terms, but is not in scientific terms. While legislation has been passed to introduce carbon pricing, this has not yet been put in place and indications are that carbon emissions have been increasing at an accelerating rate. The new policy is likely to change that (I expect it will be much more effective than official projections suggest), but this has yet to be proven in practice.
The Minister admitted that Australia is one of the world highest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita, with emissions intensive electricity generation and transport. These electricity and transport are two of the sectors most easily targeted for change.
What is less clear is if the international carbon market can operate effectively. This will require confidence that claimed carbon credits are genuine. The relatively simple ceiling insulation scheme of the Australian government had to be abandoned, due to the level of fraud. A national carbon trading system, with an international scheme is much more complex and more open to corruption. The Australian Government will need to act to see that measures are in place to deter, detect and prosecute gaming the scheme. Even the EU has had difficulties with the security of their on-line carbon trading system.
The minister mentioned successful local carbon training schemes in places such as California. He neglected to mention that some such schemes have recently ended.
The minister pointed out that China and the USA are important to the success of any global carbon emissions scheme. The Australian Government is open to new approaches to achieving this. However, in my view, the rest of the world should proceed to an agreement, even if China and/or the USA do not take part. The measures in the Kyoto Protocol were watered down in the hope of making it palatable to the USA. In the end the USA did not sign, so the world ended up with a weaker protocol and without USA participation. This mistake should not be repeated. To quote StarTrek: "Only a fool fights in a burning building.".
At question time the Minister was asked about recent comments from China that they were prepared to sign an agreement if the USA was. The minister said that he would be taking this up in Durban with the parties. He also mentioned he would be talking to Japan about their proposal to sponsor an Asian region carbon market.
I asked the minister if his department had given thought to if there were sufficient trained people to implement the Australian Government policy and similar schemes around the world. I pointed out that I teach ANU students how to estimate and reduce carbon emissions ("ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future"), which takes six months. The minister replied that he saw skills development as mostly a matter for the market. But after getting the legislation passed and the international negotiations in Durban he will be looking at implementation, including training.
The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet AM MP, was first elected to Parliament for the NSW seat of Charlton in 2007. After the 2007 election he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement in the Rudd Labor Government and in February 2009 he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change. During 2009 and 2010 Mr Combet served as Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and as the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. In this latter capacity he was responsible for winding up the insulation program and implementing the new Renewable Energy Bonus program.
Following the 2010 election, he entered Cabinet as Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and has overseen the development of the Gillard Government’s plan for a Clean Energy Future, including a carbon price. Before entering Parliament Mr Combet was Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. He went to the peak union body after starting in the union movement as a research officer for the Waterside Worker Federation. Mr Combet has degrees in engineering and economics and graduate qualifications in labour relations law.