Opinion

They’re Polluting the Planet for Free, and you’re Paying the Price

Greens Leader Christine Milne will deliver a landmark speech on the next steps for Australian climate change policy as we approach COP21 in Paris this year, and SEI researchers will respond.

The Sydney Environment Institute will host Greens Leader Christine Milne at The University of Sydney, as she delivers a landmark speech on the next steps for Australian climate change policy as we approach COP21 in Paris this year.

Sydney Environment Institute researchers will respond to Milne’s points during the event on Monday April 27, in the Great Hall at Sydney University.

Senator Milne has been at the centre of the political debate on climate change policy in Australia for the past decade. She has been critical to the establishment of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and the negotiation of the Clean Energy Future package in 2011, Senator Milne also achieved a commitment of billions of dollars for the establishment of the Biodiversity Fund and Clean Energy Finance Corporation and establishment of the Climate Change Authority.

But with parts of that legacy now in ruin at the hands of the current government, what will rise from the ashes of Australia’s once world-leading emissions trading scheme?

Senator Milne will ask, how can we make the big fossil fuel companies pay the price for their pollution?

David Schlosberg, Co-Director of SEI, will chair the event. He says:

‘Australia’s current climate policy is one of the weakest and most ineffective in the developed world. At the moment, Australia aims to cut its emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, using the ‘Direct Action’ policy that the vast majority of analysts see as inadequate to the task. This week, the US, China, and Brazil have questioned Australia’s dedication to address climate change, and asked the Abbott government to clarify exactly how the current policy will meet the minimum stated goal. And what about after 2020? In the lead up to the next global climate policy meeting, the COP 21 in Paris, Australia has not yet offered a goal or approach for broader emissions cuts. Instead, we’ve seen an attack on the renewable energy target, a lack of attention to climate change in an intergenerational report, and ongoing support of the coal industry as “good for humanity.” What will Australia offer for the Paris meeting?

‘In the absence of any new climate policy proposals by the current government, this event is dedicated to discussion of Senator Christine Milne and the Greens’ proposed policy. The willingness of a politician to engage with academics on complex policy is admirable. It’s important to acknowledge that Sen Milne could have simply given a speech, with no response from, or engagement with, Sydney experts. The University offered her a stage to herself, as we do many prominent political figures. Senator Milne’s willingness to take part in a discussion with experts from the Sydney Environment Institute, rather than just give a policy speech, is very welcome, and we hope it serves as a model for future events and engagements with political actors and governments from the local to international.’

Rosemary Lyster, Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at The University of Sydney, will be the first to respond to Milne’s points.

She will offer a legal perspective on carbon price mechanisms for mitigation, and incentives for the green economy. Professor Lyster will also point out that there’s a real need for climate finance and overseas development aid to get to developing countries. Developing countries need funding for climate mitigation, adaptation and assisting victims of climate disasters.

Christopher Wright will give the final talk of the night, and will make the point that the business community is central to a viable policy response to the threats posed by climate change. Corporations do underpin our carbon emissions, and as Senator Milne will point out, they more often than not don’t pay the price for their pollution.

Professor Wright says, ‘If the business community wants to be taken seriously as a genuine contributor to community well-being then it needs to adopt a far more constructive approach to the climate crisis.

‘This requires moving from a lowest-common denominator approach in their lobbying of government on emissions reduction and renewable energy targets and accepting the need for government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Internally, businesses need to invest in capacity building for the decarbonisation and transformation of our economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This involves both risk minimisation but also identifying and seizing the opportunities that can flow from green growth.

‘We need more examples of business innovation for a renewable green economy.

Responding to climate change requires system-wide reinvention and mobilisation guided by government and involving all stakeholders, most specifically business and corporations.’

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