Premier's backflip galling

Adam Morton -Mar 27, 2012

The Baillieu government's decision suggests it does not accept the mainstream climate science.

The Baillieu government's decision suggests it does not accept the mainstream climate science. Photo: Rob Homer

For anyone concerned about man-made climate change, the symbolism will be galling.

A week after the Baillieu government confirmed it plans to hand its massive brown coal reserves over to industry to mine, it is dumping the state target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent this decade.

It will add to a sense that it either does not accept the mainstream climate science, or at least rejects the need for Victoria to play a part in tackling it.

It also suggests that it believes abandoning green policies will not hurt it politically.

It may be right: most polling finds concern about climate change is much less likely to influence how people vote than just a few years ago.

Let's set aside the question of motivation for a moment. There is a pure economic argument that Victoria should not have its own emissions target.

The Victorian climate act was introduced when there was no plan to meet the national target of a 5 per cent cut on 2000 levels by 2020. When the federal carbon laws passed Parliament last year, the Baillieu government invoked a trigger that the state act be reviewed.

It says the review found that having state and national targets could increase costs to Victorians without guaranteeing a better result for the environment - effectively, that if Australia hits its 5 per cent target, and Victoria makes a 20 per cent cut, this will just allow other states to do less.

This is technically accurate. A counter argument, though, is that a higher target will encourage Victorians to move sooner under the belief that deeper cuts will have to come eventually. Most economic analyses suggest early movers will benefit.

Whatever the case for dropping the target, the government has opened itself up to accusations it is disingenuous on climate change. In opposition it supported the 20 per cent target and a national carbon price scheme. It is now winding back climate programs, dropping the target and wants the federal scheme abolished. It has not said what - if anything - it wants in their place.

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