Drew Hutton: ‘Price on pollution’ not enough

Here is the first of a few responses to the carbon price we will print. This is from Friends of the Earth.

A ‘price on pollution’ is not enough for action on climate change

One of Australia’s leading environmental organisations has called for the federal government to go further than arguing merely for a carbon price. Friends of the Earth is calling for a range of measures that would significantly increase the development of renewable energy.

Drew Hutton, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth in Queensland and acting president of the national Lock the Gate Alliance, said that, on its own, all a low carbon price will deliver is a greater reliance on gas, and that this would be both an environmental disaster and an opportunity lost.

“The argument that gas is somehow ‘clean and green’ is a myth propagated by the coal seam gas industry and unfortunately accepted by some environmental NGOs,” Mr Hutton said.

“Recent research indicates that gas extraction, especially when it is accompanied by fracking, has a much higher carbon footprint than previously thought, and it certainly has a large ecological footprint, as farmers in western Queensland can tell you.

Research in the US, headed by Cornell University’s Robert Howarth, indicates that authorities have been consistently under-estimating the greenhouse emissions from that country’s shale gas industry by under-estimating the fugitive emissions.

In addition, extracting, compressing, pumping and liquefying coal seam gas, as well as the large amounts of required tree clearing, generate very large amounts of carbon dioxide. The Queensland Coordinator-General estimates the cumulative impact of the four coal seam gas projects as increasing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 21 per cent.

Environmentalists and scientists also warn that coal seam gas could severely damage the Great Artesian Basin and other underground water systems.

Mr Hutton said a carbon price of less than $70 a tonne could simply ensure a transition from coal-fired power stations to gas-fired ones, and without being accompanied by other measures, would result in little, if any, reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Unless we also get measures such as a national feed-in tariff and a substantial increase in the renewable energy target, then renewable energy will struggle to expand, and the country will be full of polluting gas-fired power stations.

“The announcement over the weekend that UK Cabinet ministers have agreed to a far-reaching, legally binding “green deal” that will commit the UK to two decades of drastic cuts in carbon emissions shows how wrong Tony Abbott is in his claim that action now on climate would mean Australia is “going it alone” in responding to the threat of global warming. The package will require sweeping changes to domestic life, transport and business. Like the UK, Australia must adopt a broad range of measures, rather than hoping a carbon price alone will be enough to reduce emissions”.

For further comment: Drew Hutton 0428 487 110

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