Can anyone remember a piece of legislation about which there has been so much ignorance, so much misinformation, so little reliable expert opinion, and so much politicking, than the emissions trading scheme legislation now known as the carbon pollution reduction scheme?
The problem is that so very few understand how the CPRS is designed and how it might work. Those who believe they do seem unable to articulate it in a way that might inform the average citizen. [more]
It seems as if there are multiple reasons the CPRS is so poorly understood.
First, it is unique. There is almost no experience of how a CPRS such as proposed by the Government might work.
Because of this, theoretical modelling is needed to predict the effect of the CPRS. All modelling, no matter how sophisticated, no matter how powerful the computers are that crunch the data, depend on the assumptions that are fed into the modelling. If these are not valid, the output will be invalid. Peter Costello said just this when asked to comment on Malcolm Turnbull’s Frontier Economics modelling – the assumptions determine what comes out. The assumptions are as important as the conclusions, but we seldom hear about them.
Next, while there are many commentators on the CPRS and alternative schemes, very, very few know enough to make their opinions and predictions useful. Those who might know are diluted by scores of columnists who take a shot at informing the public, but fail dangerously because of the misinformation and confusion they spread. As was the case during the GFC, we have bevies of economists pontificating about the CPRS but succeeding in adding uncertainty to an already complicated debate. As with the GFC, they seem unable to grasp the complex dynamics of interactive systems. The complexity of the CPRS is even greater than the GFC. It will have to operate in a highly dynamic multi-facetted system that intertwines ongoing changes in the physical world, the changes needed to mitigate carbon pollution, world economics and politics and geopolitical dynamics. Add to that competing emission abatement schemes, and you have a complex mix that defies explanation by almost everybody, especially columnists. They would serve us better writing about something else or by confining their offerings to what they see as the politics of the debate, not the technicalities of carbon mitigation.
This morning on ABC’s Insiders we saw the confusion in full flight with Michael Stutchbury canvassing a rethink on the carbon tax idea instead of an ETS, Brian Toohey being generally critical of aspects the CPRS, and Lenore Taylor, as usual, taking a balanced approach, while Barrie Cassidy looked on somewhat bemused. It was patently clear that public debate among those we might expect to be well informed has not advanced much.
So where can anyone who wants valid and reliable information get it?
In July last year I had a shot at explaining an ETS on Possum Box in A plain man’s guide to an emissions trading scheme. It was down-to-earth rather than sophisticated, but even today it still makes sense. Then in November there was The CPRS, Treasury modelling, and the predictable reaction and Will world leaders do a climate change Nero? and in December The convoluted politics of climate change all of which focussed more on the politics than the technicalities of an ETS. In February this year there was The Turnbull ETS wild card written at the time he tried to up the ante on carbon targets, and in July there was Is the CPRS really a dog? Again these were pieces related to the politics rather than the details of the scheme.
So what is there around to help the thoughtful person who wishes to make an informed decision about an ETS? Joshua Gans made a valiant attempt in How do CPRS schemes work? in Crikey on 12 August but even after reading it three times I was not much wiser. I can’t name any other columnist that has tried to explain the technicalities comprehensively. If any reader has a reference, please inform us all.
If you want information, as it were from the horse’s mouth, there is a Government climate change website. A subsection on the White Paper gives a useful Executive Summary which is detailed and comprehensive. Then there are over 30 Fact Sheets, one of which is Emissions Trading How it Works that gives a simple two page summary. There are a vast number of Climate change publications.
Frankly, there is more than enough information to satisfy most.
There is another website offered by the EPA Victoria, the Victorian Government, Global Sustainability, and RMIT Carbon Offset Guide Australia that helps commerce and industry to find and choose carbon offsets
If anyone is interested in the Frontier Economics modifications to the Government’s proposed CPRS, click here (1.59 mb).
So where do we go from here? Frankly I hope columnists give up their attempts to explain the technicalities of ETS schemes and the Government’s CPRS. They appear incapable of doing so in the detail appropriate for the average citizen. As they seem not to understand what they’re talking about, by writing they can only add to the confusion.
Next, I believe that the Government should, in the next three months, blitz the public with simple, down-to-earth communications on the CPRS – short, well illustrated brochures to every household, a variety of TV ‘commercials’ about the CPRS, a short documentary, and perhaps community meetings to explain the scheme. The Opposition will protest about the expense, but this is too important a matter on which to skimp - to hell with the expense.
The public is very supportive. Recent surveys show that about three out of four want action on climate change and want the Opposition to support the Government scheme; a Morgan survey last week showed 58% say if we don’t act it will be too late and another 11% say it’s too late already.
So there’s a receptive audience out there that would respond to a clear explanation of the ins and outs of the scheme. It’s a perfect selling situation that the Government should grab with eager hands.
Finally if any visitor can point us to an existing lucid exposition of the CPRS, please do.