The nation is in a climate emergency. Get your act together, warned activists as they took out marches in Australia, slamming the Kevin Rudd for pussyfooting on emissions by the industry. But the government defended itself saying it was going as far as it could in these difficult times, to expect anything more was unrealistic.
The protesters were dressed in red, which they say represents the emergency facing the environment because of climate change.
Speakers condemned the Government's emissions trading scheme as inadequate and accused the Government of selling out to heavily polluting industries.
Under the scheme a central authority sets a limit or cap
on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted. Companies or other groups are issued emission permits and are required to hold an equivalent number of allowances
) which represent the right to emit a specific amount. The total amount of allowances and credits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. Companies that need to increase their emission allowance must buy credits from those who pollute less. The transfer of allowances is referred to as a trade. In effect, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. Thus, in theory, those who can easily reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, achieving the pollution reduction at the lowest possible cost to society.
Now the Rudd government has gone back on its stentorian declarations of its commitment to make the environment safer and cleaner.
Last month Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced he was pushing back his green agenda by a year. The government's carbon emissions trading scheme will come into force only by 2011. Some features of the scheme are also getting diluted. The Australian Premier blames it all on the global economic crisis. This is the first broken election promise of the Labour Party.
But Mr Rudd has also sought to assuage environmentalists.
He's promising a more ambitious target for 2020, but only if the world agrees to a much tougher regime to cut atmospheric carbon to 450 parts per million.
The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and its accompanying bills seem to have no takers at all.
The business community have almost unanimously complained about its job-destroying provisions; the environmentalists, on the other hand, have complained that it does not go far enough and is not effective in reducing emissions.
The Saturday rally in Sydney was addressed by members of the Pine Rivers Climate Action Network, the Greens, the St Johns Wood Sustainability Group and the Queensland secretary of the Electrical Trade Union, Peter Simpson.
Mr Simpson acknowledged the potential for job losses due to the long-term unsustainability of the power industry and the need for the Government to move towards renewable energies.
After the march, informal workshops were held in Queens Park on transferring to a greener economy and transport, as well as on how to form a local environmental group.
New South Wales' Greens MP Lee Rhiannon says the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme is a "scam."
She says the Greens will vote against it in the Senate because it will do nothing to reduce emissions and protects big polluting industries.
But federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has defended the Government's policies on climate change.
Ms Wong says people's expectations are unrealistic.
"What many of these people are calling for simply can't be done. It can't be done while supporting jobs," she said.
Already Professor Ross Garnaut, a senior advisor to the federal government, has warned that Australia had to adopt a scheme for trading greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 or face the eventual destruction of sites including the Great Barrier Reef, the wetlands of Kakadu and the nation's food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin.
The new legislation is a failure to match the community expectation for action that helped Labor to office, says Damien Lawson, the national climate justice co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth Australia.
Low targets will lock in a high-pollution economy and don't come close to what is necessary. Polluters will be able to buy carbon credits overseas, effectively outsourcing pollution cuts to developing countries. Treasury says this means there will be no pollution cuts in Australia until 2030. Offsets are flawed because they promote the notion that the cuts can be made in either rich or poor countries. Action is needed in both. Just creating a carbon market was never going to create the transformation required
But the Government has also announced in the May budget more than $1.3 billion for four solar power stations that together would generate as much power as a 1000 megawatt coal-fired power station.
This is one ray of hope in a year in which fiscal policy including the stimulus packages missed the chance to kick-start a new low-pollution economy, said Lawson writing in The Age and demanded greater public investment in renewable energy.