Federal Government wants climate change with no change

Prof Ross Garnaut told about 1000 people assembled in the Brisbane City Hall on 11 July 2008 that the ‘centrepiece of our [the federal government] response to climate change is an Emissions Trading Scheme [ETS].

Prof Ross Garnaut talk at BCC on Climate Change

Garnaut said he accepts the majority view of climate scientists that carbon emissions into the atmosphere from human activity is causing global warming. And this will have severe deleterious effects on human society and the planet. He said that the policy problem this presents to government is of ‘higher importance than any other in living memory.’

He outlined various predictions of the impact on Queensland of Climate Change brought about by emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide if too little or nothing is done. These included the end of dry land farming, reduced irrigation for farming in places like the Darling Downs, the loss of the global wonder the Great Barrier Reef. He also predicted the loss of Kakadu in the North and the snow fields in the South, and a general rising of sea level.

He said that he could provide no precision as he could not assemble enough data to model the ‘mid range’ predictions. However he could say that the economic effects would be considerable: loss of tourism, loss of agriculture, loss of social structures, loss of heritage. He predicted that unmitigated Climate Change could lead to loss of GDP and 7.8% reduction in real wages. He said that the Garnaut Review Draft Report provides the detail outlining predictions and reasons.

Emissions Trading Scheme

Graphic from submission to Garnaut Review
Graphic from submission to Garnaut Review

Garnaut follows a classical economic approach to provide a policy to combat these effects. The Garnaut review sees the policy solution lies in market forces. The right to emit carbon will be traded in the same way as goods and services are. It will recommend that the government issue permits for carbon emission [pollution] to defined limits thus reducing the level to which a corporation (say) can pollute. Revenue from the sale of these permits will be used to create new technology to overcome the problems of carbon in the atmosphere.

Not all sectors of the economy will have to pay for carbon emissions, for example, agriculture will be excluded for the time being. Some essential sectors of the economy will be compensated for their carbon emissions. However others, for example coal fired power stations will not be allowed compensation for the carbon they emit.

“An ETS is how governments place a price on carbon pollution. The Government sets a limit on how much carbon that industry can belch into the atmosphere, and sells permits for the right to pollute. But it leaves it to the market to sort out which firms continue emitting greenhouse gases at that higher cost, while the rest switch to cleaner energy sources” — George Megalogenis in an article – Kevin the unready

After Garnaut’s talk outside the City Hall I had a chance conversation with three opponents of fossil fuel technology and one Labor city councillor, Helen Abrahams, about the solution presented at the meeting. The Labor councillor had recently won the Brisbane Gabba ward with the help of Green preferences. She said that it was Garnaut’s brief, given by the federal government, to come up with an emissions trading scheme and that she endorsed that approach. When I challenged this market approach on the basis that over overproduction in the market is one major cause of carbon dioxide emissions, Abrahams questioned this asking ‘which came first’: overconsumption or overproduction. She seemed to think overconsumption was the problem, making a parallel with water restrictions, where she stated that rich people ‘arrogantly flaunt water restrictions’. Did Abrahams believe this or was she just towing the party line?

The opponents of fossil fuel technology [Rob, Russ & Trevor] then gave, unsolicited, examples of overproduction in the electricity generation system. Helen Abrahams quickly changes the topic of the conversation.

Overproduction of coal for export markets is a main area of concern in Queensland.

But, to address Abrahams question, which does come first? Would overconsumption exist without the market imperative to overproduce in order to ensure higher growth and greater profit?


Photo from Garnaut Review Website
Gums in outback Australia

The policy solution overlooks the failure of the existing economic system to work for the betterment of all. Capitalism results in overproduction, this is a key aspect of the profiteers’ need for market growth. A new market has been opened up; this time, a market in carbon emission, or supposedly a trade in limited carbon emission.

Will it lead to reduction in carbon emission? I doubt it.

To increase profit there must be growth, to ensure growth requires overproduction. Overconsumption in the advanced capitalist countries is a result of this overproduction.

Garnaut’s predetermined brief was to introduce an emission trading scheme not to find a solution to climate change.

Both government and opposition are disciples of the capitalist economics. Garnaut has provided advice to labor governments from the early 1980s to find market solutions to policy problems. The proposed ’emissions trading scheme’ is the product of a liberal economic outlook and continues the pursuit of the free trade, in this case trading of carbon.

To a question on seeking solution to food poverty in the world, Garnaut replied ‘increase the international free trade in food without government restrictions’. He added that farming to produce food should be given priority over agricultural production of biofuels.

Who can trust the market to provide adequate food, the poor of Australia, US and Britain? The impoverished people of the developing world in Africa, India, South America?


At the end of Garnaut’s talk people were asked to line up at microphones set up on either side of City Hall. Among the many that did this, there were four people who asked questions critical of market solutions.

They were representatives of the Green Left Weekly, Solidarity, Queensland Public Sector Union and the Make Poverty History Campaign. ‘A GreenPeace CEO’ asked an environmental question with no implied challenge to market solutions.

Garnaut chose to ignore this underlying ideological issue and fobbed off the implied critique of the market.

It may have been better if the four groups had challenged the theme of the Garnaut review collectively rather than lining up individually and have their critique lost amidst myriad interlocutors.

If this had been their approach, greater stress on the significance of a deeper criticism of the emissions trading scheme may have been the result.

Ian Curr

July 2008

References: Local Power website at http://localpower.net.au/

Garnaut Review at http://www.garnautreview.org.au

See protest for renewable energy in Newcastle on 13 July 2008 at:

3 thoughts on “Federal Government wants climate change with no change

  1. On 5 September Ross Garnaut launches the Targets and Trajectories Supplementary Draft Report at the National Press Club.

    Can be viewed on ABC TV 5 September 2008, 12.30pm.

  2. To confirm the title of this article and what was already clear when Garnaut toured Australia the Labor Government announced its White Paper titled “Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme — Australia’s Low Pollution Future

    Even if they had imposed a carbon tax we would have had the problem of collecting the tax from the rich that have the power to treat such payments as discretionary.

    Both solutions (the free enterprise ETS and the regulatory carbon tax) ignore the systemic nature of the CO2 problem.

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