AN historic piece of legislation, The Carbon Pollution Reduction Bill, currently rests on the Senate table which, if passed, will have a huge impact on Australia’s economic and social future. The legislation will next be considered on August 13th. If passed what will this mean for the Australian environment?
It is generally agreed that the legislation is intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane. However, given the big global polluters including China have no intensions of signing up to such a scheme, it is also generally agreed that an Australian emissions trading scheme will have no significant impact on global emissions or global temperatures.
But in terms of economics how big will the impact be and what will the flow on effect be in terms of Australian industries and as a consequence the Australian environment.
Very large tracts of Australia support a cattle industry. The government intends to include agriculture in the scheme down-the-track and Senator Barnaby Joyce, Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, claims that taxing methane emissions from cattle will effectively make beef too expensive. He has claimed a prime cut roast will end up costing upwards of A$100.
Many would argue that the end of the cattle industry in Australia would be a good thing for the environment. Indeed Ross Garnaut, a key advisor to the government on climate change, suggested in his final report on climate change that the nation’s farmers should switch to kangaroo and this would have multiple environmental benefits additional to reducing emissions. But instead of switching to kangaroos, it is perhaps more likely that beef producers in moderate rainfall zones will plant trees to defray their costs. This is what a reader of this weblog, Luke Walker, has suggested and furthermore he claims that trees in large numbers will impact significantly on catchment hydrology resulting in reduced water yields.
Another industry likely to be affected by the proposed legislation is mining. While mining has arguably a less diffuse impact on the immediate landscape than either agriculture or forestry it never-the-less impacts. There is currently a battle between farmers and miners on the Liverpool Plains of northern central NSW as farmers worry about the impact of proposed new coal mines in particularly on their aquifers.
In short, is an ETS likely to be beneficial for Australia’s natural environment, not because it will reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide, but because it will result in the closure of many Australian primary industries and extractive industries?
The picture is of a young blue gum plantation in western Victoria taken by Jennifer Marohasy on a cold day in November 2006.