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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Permanent Natural Disaster Fund idea is taking root ... now let's see some political courage

Sometimes a journalist can get ahead of the news, which is what's been happening to your correspondent as the Queensland and wider Australian floods crisis unfolded this month.

My antenna are up again today because one and most likely two cyclones are bearing down on Queensland and the prospect of more flooding in the already sodden state is very real.

The position I first put about three weeks ago (see January 10th post below), before the Brisbane flood crisis even began, is that more and more destructive extreme weather events are the new normal in a climate change world. Therefore, I argued, Australia needs to make the likely impacts part of mainstream economic planning including creating a 'natural disaster levy' to support a permanent fund.

Fast forward to now and the Australian Government has promised a short-term levy to fund part of the flood recovery, mainly in Queensland, but ironically also is shaving climate action programs to save more dollars to help out. Some of these programs are really just further subsidising of the fossil fuel industry, like carbon capture and storage research, and may well be expendable; others like the solar hot water rebate are important to engaging people in solutions and should be saved.

The minority Gillard Labor Government is now copping it from every direction:

  • The Opposition wants no levy - it calls it a tax anyhow - and thinks Australia should be cutting more programs like water buy-backs (short-term thinking based on a wet year after 10 of drought)
  • Key Independents want a proper, lasting Natural Disaster Fund
  • The Greens, also wielding significant minority political influence, want climate programs protected and business - especially big polluters - to pay for any levy rather than the public
  • The hopeless NSW Labor Government, facing its own wipe-out at the polls in March, is bleating on about western Sydney folk not being able to afford the levy and wanting them exempted
  • Progressive social change group Get Up is running a lightning campaign calling for a Climate Disaster Fund paid for by stripping all subsidies away from the fossil fuel sectors (http://www.getup.org.au/campaign/ClimateDisasterFund)

All of this reflects the dysfunction of Australia and most of the world on climate change. The science is clear, we are living out the predicted rising chaos form weather-related extreme events, and yet our political leaders continue on a business as usual approach that is seeing our fossil fuel sector grow dramatically.

So what needs to happen now?

It's really this simple, albeit politically terrifying:
1. We have to put the polluter pays screws on the most polluting sectors to generate $ for climate action
2. Some of that money will have to go to a Natural Disaster Fund because more and more expensive disasters are inevitable and we need to budget for them, not just pass the hat around when they hit
3. A big slab of $ also needs to go to accelerating a clean energy future, driving renewable generation, distributed generation and energy efficiency as part of a 'smart and clean grid' future
4. Australia needs to chart a real transition plan to achieve a low-carbon, sustainable economic future much faster than anyone in power seems to be contemplating (there are lots of good ideas around for how to achieve this, so let's have a powerful expert Commission of Inquiry to get real answers)

This year 2011 is the year for action. The disasters are happening, a price on carbon is on the national agenda, and a Natural Disaster Fund is a political horse-trading headache the minority Gillard Government cannot avoid.

1 comment:

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