Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:47 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:47 | SYDNEY

Climate: The wait-and-see approach


Sam Roggeveen


8 July 2010 12:47

On Tuesday, the Lowy Institute published a new Policy Brief called 'Confronting the Crisis of International Climate Policy', in which authors Fergus Green, Warwick McKibbin and Greg Picker argue for the adoption of an international carbon price. They published an opinion piece in yesterday's Financial Review to accompany the launch (all AFR content is firewalled), and today the AFR published a letter in response from Alan Moran, of the free-market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

Moran touches on a diplomatic question in his letter:

The Australian economy has a trivial effect on global emissions...Rather than saddling ourselves with additional imposts, Australia would be better off eliminating all present forms of carbon tax and waiting for some sort of global consensus, should this occur, before incurring the economic damage of a carbon tax.

I'm struck by the passivity of this proposed approach. Moran says Australia should wait for a global consensus on carbon pricing, should it occur. But what if a global consensus doesn't occur?  

Moran's submission to a 2009 Senate Committee adds more detail to his proposed approach. It argues that Australia should put together a plan for emissions reductions that can go into effect in 2020, should there be a consensus. Yes, waiting will incur slightly higher cost, the submission argues, but that's worth it, considering the uncertainty of the science, the possibility of technological advances, and the difficulty of achieving global consensus.

I'm in no position to judge the economic or environmental merits of this proposal, but it feels like there's an element missing from it. Namely, if the climate change problem is urgent enough that Australia should develop a plan along the lines Moran proposes, then isn't it also urgent enough for the Government to do more than simply wait for a consensus to emerge?

The logical extension of Moran's proposed approach seems to be that the Australian Government ought to act so that the likelihood of global consensus is increased. That action could take many forms (some would say Australia needs to set an example by adopting a carbon price early; others say Australia should launch a major diplomatic initiative), but it surely needs to do more than just wait.

Photo by Flickr user Dead Air, used under a Creative Commons license.