12 March 2009

Emissions Trading Scheme fundamentally flawed

The government's proposed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has become a major embarrassment for the Rudd Labor government. The government has been left in disarray because of internal divisions on the policy, and it is now the subject of three Senate inquiries. It has been very poorly designed and raises deep concerns from both the Coalition and Greens.

The ETS in its proposed form will have little or no impact on the nation's carbon emissions. Speaking of the Select Committee on Climate Change Policy, Andrew Robb, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and COAG and Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on Emissions Trading Design, said:

The Government's emissions trading scheme is deeply flawed – if implemented it would cost jobs, kill investment and not see any appreciable reduction in CO2 emissions.

This inquiry is an opportunity to look at additional complementary measures and alternatives to the Government's ETS.

This inquiry has been agreed to because everyone, including many in the Government's caucus think, that what the Government has come up with is so deeply flawed that we need to have an inquiry which will look more broadly at what can be done which won't cost thousands of jobs but can also do something significant about CO2 emissions.

The scheme has been slammed in a report commissioned by the Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy. Dr Fisher is critical of both what is known about the scheme and what remains unknown:

Although the public report on the Treasury modelling is voluminous there remain aspects of the modelling that are not transparent. To assist in this review the Chair of the Senate Select Committee wrote to the Treasurer requesting, ‘the government's complete documentation of the government's models together with the model codes and databases and any other model simulations undertaken relevant to the policy scenarios, but not publicly released’. To this reviewer’s knowledge no response was received. As a consequence, it has been necessary to undertake this review without access to a complete set of information about model documentation, databases, implementation and many of the underlying technical model parameters. Given the major long-term structural changes to the Australian economy implied by the introduction of an ETS and the fact that the development of the key model employed to determine the international effects on the Australian economy of the scheme was fully taxpayer funded, it seems reasonable that full model datasets, codes and comprehensive documentation be released.


As already stated this review regards the transparency surrounding the Treasury modelling process as unsatisfactory, notwithstanding the efforts of the Committee to gain access to models, documentation, codes and databases developed with public funding. This lack of transparency is regrettable given Treasury’s traditional advocacy of openness and competition when it comes to others.

The report also raises concerns about carbon leakage, where emission-intensive, trade-exposed industries relocate offshore. Carbon leakage not only threatens Australian jobs, but can potentially increase greenhouse gas emissions:

The most common description of carbon leakage concerns the relocation of energy intensive industries from countries with emissions constraints to countries with no such constraints. This could happen either via physical plant relocation or if firms in emission-constrained countries shrink while competitors in non-constrained countries expand. Global emissions might actually rise, compared to what otherwise would have occurred, if firms in the nonconstrained economy use more emission-intensive technologies.

Another channel by which leakage can occur is via global energy prices. Mitigation policies in carbon-constrained countries reduce demand for high carbon fossil fuels, leading to lower prices on world markets (other things equal). As a result, non-constrained countries would respond by increasing consumption above what it would otherwise be. Conversely, demand for cleaner fuels such as natural gas would increase in rich, participating countries, driving up the world price and reducing the reliance on such fuels in non-constrained countries.

Unfortunately, it appears that there was some political influence in the economic modelling that was carried out in the design of the scheme, as Senator Mathias Cormann, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy, explained in a media release:

From evidence received late last year, the Committee already knew the Government had refused to ask Treasury to assess the most realistic scenarios when modelling the economic impact of its proposed CPRS.

Challenged about the scenarios chosen for modelling, a senior Treasury official told our Committee that “the scenarios that were modelled by Treasury were done at the direction of the government”.

That is code for don't blame us.

No comments: