Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can Senator Penny Wong head Australia in the right last?

The whole world knows how irresponsible Australia was in dealing with its carbon footprint during the Howard years. This was also a period when the large coal and resources companies literally ran Australia's climate change policies - hence no ratification of Kyoto until the election of the Rudd Labor Government.

Now these same executives and their lobbyists are beating a path to the door of Penny Wong the minister responsible for developing Australia's climate change policies. She appears to be under intense pressure, but her own experience of trying to connect to Greenpower for her own home, is a telling example of why urgent action is needed to both reform the marketplace (i.e. carbon trading) and to introduce sweeping institutional reforms that favour changes in citizen behaviour and creates a wave of new investment in technologies other than coal - especially oxymoronic 'clean coal'! She needs help like that orchestrated by GetUp to resist and transform!

Some environmental NGOs seem less than helpful in this regard. Take WWF(Australia):

'Bourne [Director of WWF(Australia)] and his organisation have hitched their wagon, along with the Climate Institute, to the coal industry's strategy: that "clean coal" should be a key part of the Government's climate change policy. They are joined by the mining union.

The two environmental groups attracted intense heat from other green organisations for their policy switch earlier this year. The Greens senator Christine Milne believes "clean coal" technology will not be commercially feasible in time. She argues against using taxpayers' money to fund the technology. "It comes down to the 'polluter pays' principle," she says. "And if you believe the polluter should pay, the coal industry is the classic case because for the last 100 years it had made massive profits at the expense of the atmosphere and the climate and now is the time for them to pay for their own research."'

As someone who served on the programme Committee of WWF(UK) for a number of years I find the stance of the Australian office on clean coal to be ill-considered. Their rationale just does not stack up, especially in a country where the resources for new investment are not so great. Resources available to Government deserve to go anywhere but 'clean coal' and associated sequestration technologies.

It is of note that at last the shareholders of Exxon, one of the main funders of climate sceptics, have at last begun to speak out about the company's policies. These include members of the Rockefeller family, descendants of the company's founder. It is to be hoped that these moves by shareholders take effect at Board level. If they do not they will be yet another example of how too many current institutional arrangements stand in the way of transformations in business practices in a climate change world.

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