While it’s hardly a wedge in the traditional Howard style, the government has found itself somewhat caught out, at least in the public perception, by events in Bali.
During the election campaign, as you’ll recall, Labor – and Kevin Rudd specifically – were prepared to commit to 2050 targets for CO2 emissions. This is an important symbolic gesture, but the decisions that will have substantive impact over the political life of a Rudd government are shorter-term targets for 2020 or 2025. It’s not altogether surprising, given the potential for a scare campaign on the issue, that Rudd decided to make it go away temporarily by comissioning Ross Garnaut to do a report on the costs of various greenhouse reduction options before committing to a specific short-term target. However, at the Bali conference, the draft text for the joint statement has developed nations committing to a “25 to 40 % cut” in greenhouse emissions by 2020; unsurprisingly, Greenpeace and other environmental groups are telling Australia to adopt a target in this band domestically.
Frankly, the environmental groups are quite right that cuts on this scale are required – though achieving them in 12 years is going to be extremely tough unless we buy emissions credits from developing countries. But Labor probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on this issue for the moment. International negotiations being the way they are, there will be plenty of room for Australia to fudge its position for another few months until the Garnaut report comes out. And that report is almost certain to provide plenty of political cover to support ambitious and costly greenhouse gas reduction targets.
But the excuses run out after July. If there’s no serious action then, they will have betrayed those who voted for Labor on the basis that they’d do something about climate change, and they will deserve both barrels.