23 July 2010

Julia Gillard Lays Out Her Approach to Climate Policy

In a speech today at the University of Queensland in Brisbane,, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has laid out her approach to dealing with climate change in the context of an upcoming national election (see the news report above). At the core of her proposal is the convening of a "citizen's assembly":
And so today I announce that if we are re-elected, I will develop a dedicated process – a Citizens’ Assembly – to examine over 12 months the evidence on climate change, the case for action and the possible consequences of introducing a market-based approach to limiting and reducing carbon emissions.
It is an interesting proposal, not least because public opinion on climate policies in Australia are well known: People support action on climate change, but they don't want it to cost very much at all (see this Lowy Institute poll). In this respect, Australians are no different than pretty much every one else around the world. Any properly constituted citizens assembly is likely to come to the same conclusions.

Gillard appears to recognize this, saying that she "will act when the Australian economy is ready":
[W]e must acknowledge that Australians have real concerns about making changes that are this big and they need more information.

They are concerned about the impact on jobs and the impact on the prices of goods and services that they rely on, especially electricity.
But she seems to get off track when discussing the implications of her proposed policy approach - a market-based approach to carbon trading as was proposed under the former Prime Minister:
Adopting a market based mechanism to price carbon will transform the way we live and the way we work. Such a major change cannot be made and unmade on the oscillations of the political pendulum.

Instead this transformational change must have as its foundation the genuine political support of the community, a consensus that will drive bipartisanship.
When will politicians learn that climate policies are a political loser if they require that people "transform the way we live and the way we work"? The vast majority of people simply do not want their lives transformed. Promising that government will transform your life is one way to ensure a rough political road for any policy -- climate change, health care, economic, whatever. Many smart politicians have recognized this, from Obama's promise during the health care debate that if you like your current health care arrangements you can keep them to the oft-repeated claims that US climate legislation would cost only a "postage stamp per day." The implied message is exactly the opposite of transformational change. As can be seen in the ABC news story above, Tony Abbott, the opposition leader, is already exploiting this point.

Gillard may have kicked the can down the road far enough to get through the upcoming election with the perception that she has a credible approach to climate change (which Rudd did not). However, at the same time she has also guaranteed that this issue is going to be highly problematic for her in the future.

Climate policies cannot succeed as agents of transformational change. It is better to go with the direction of public opinion than against it, which for Australia (and the world) means a need to go back to the policy drawing board and rethink climate policies from the bottom up. It is possible to design climate policies in such a manner. What leader will be first to recognize this?


  1. Julia Gillard looks completely unfazed by the critical reaction to her proposal of a climate change citizen assembly.

    Either she is an astute politician or she has overdone the Botox.

  2. The message is crystal clear. Whatever the corporate media says, whatever manipulated academic statistical surveys say, most voters don't believe a word of it.

    Not everyone is a member of the East Anglia OJ Simpson Appreciation Society. Climategate scored a direct hit. Give whoever was responsible three Nobel Prizes (removed from the scammers).

  3. This will undoubtedly have a dramatic effect on America's environmental markets. Now is the time for investors to focus their efforts on other regions of the world. Specifically areas that recognize a mandate for climate change based on their laws and policies. At least until the next U.S. election.

    The question is: which region globally is best for investors?


  4. "Adopting a market based mechanism to price carbon will transform the way we live and the way we work."


    "India may face a coal shortfall of 189 million metric tons a year by 2015"

    "Viet Nam may need to start importing coal as early as 2012, three years earlier than expected, to meet its electricity demands."


    "JAKARTA, INDONESIA (Commodity Online): Indonesia, the world's third-largest coal exporter, plans to gradually cease its coal exports to save for its future needs, says a government official."

    In all seriousness, we already have a market driven emissions trading scheme. The number of places that have sufficient domestic resources for their needs is shrinking and the number of places that have sufficient resources to 'share' is also shrinking.

  5. Roger, you have missed two things. First, Julia Gilliard is following Kevin Rudd in trying to promise everything to everyone without actually saying what her government will do. This is yet another delaying tactic. Second, Labor has already done a deal with the Greens which will probably see them hold the balance of power in the Senate, in the event of which they will immediately move to introduce a (high) price on carbon. It is a con of monumental proportions.

  6. Given that the climate science is highly polarised, with a lot of complex arguments, this is not something that your average citizen can pronounce upon. Also, given that on one side you have a consensus of experts pronouncing the science is settled, with it being widely promoted that the opposition are just spokespeople for the fossil fuel lobby, there will be a vast majority in support of action and a small minority of dogged skeptics.

    The only way for a consensus to be formed objectively is for the panel to act as a jury, with
    1. Clear guidelines as to what constitutes evidence, and levels of evidence to sort out the facts and strongly-verified science, from the, weak circumstantial evidence, and hearsay.*
    2. For a clearly defined barrier to establish the need for action. Like in a criminal trial under English common law, where you have to establish beyond reasonable doubt. The barrier may be set lower (like in civil cases), but it still needs to be there.
    3. To clearly separate the science from the policy. That is to clearly take into account the costs, benefits and risks of policy changes.

  7. At the core of her proposal is the convening of a "citizen's assembly"

    They already have one: it is called a parliament.

    If the new assembly is contested by the current parties then it is no improvement over parliament. People would be elected by party, not climate credentials.

    If it is selected by parliament, then it is no improvement over a parliamentary committee.

    If by general election - which would be amusing - then it would allow the sceptical parties free rein to run unencumbered by the constraints of fitting into an electoral party. They would have a field day and totally ruin any idea of consensus.

    If they somehow arrange it to be selected, but exclude any sceptical voices, then what sort of democracy would that be? It would be a huge victory for the sceptics even if they lost the formal votes (just as everyone in Australia knows that most Australians favour a republic and that only the timidity of the parties stops it from happening - Howard's referendum was so obviously fixed that it proved the opposite of the formal result).

    It's a crazy, and unworkable, idea.

  8. So the platform of the candidate is that if elected, she will punt to a random group of citizens.
    Of course 'random' is a tricky term.........

  9. Roger,

    Think about this. The putative PM herself was nearly attacked at this UoQ venue over the climate policies.

    Please think what will be the fate of the 150 hapless plebs tasked to make a decision the Party-in-Power wishes to dodge the responsibility for making ?

    We had better have a good witness protection scheme here in 'stralia to save the poor sods.

  10. Given that the climate science is highly polarised, with a lot of complex arguments, this is not something that your average citizen can pronounce upon.

    This could be said of most political decisions. The result is not pretty when followed to its logical conclusion.

    Democracy may be rubbish, but it better than all other alternatives tried. One consequence of that is that we should not go around pretending that the public is too stupid to make any sensible decisions.

    To clearly separate the science from the policy

    And you suggest the public isn't up to making decisions!

    They, at least, realise that the dream of unpoliticised science is just that - a dream.

  11. hi roger,

    This would take an hour of your time but the Q&A discussion last night on ABC might interest you. It featured Malcom Turnbull (who lost his job as opposition leader because he supported an emissions trading scheme), Penny Wong (Labour's Climate change minister) and Christine Milne (Green Deputy leader). There was discussion about climate change policy all the way through. Penny Wong was very much on the defensive attempting to explain the backdown by the Labour government. I don't think Gillard's reworking of the Rudd policy has succeeded in kicking the can down the road. There were many interesting nuances to the discussion, too many for me to detail but I think just about all of them have been covered by Pielke jnr and snr at some stage.

    Possibly Gillard is not aware of your analysis. Even if she was there is insufficient time line for her to put the position. My guess is that if she did put any sort of carbon tax position in the current very murky political climate then that would tip the balance in favour of the Coalition opposition. Or that would be her evaluation of the situation. But that might happen anyway because it might be perceived that she and Labour are too gutless to take a tough stand on an issue where the public does want some action. That factor might, in the course of the campaign, trump the initial calculation by Labour that Julia will win office on the strength of the women's vote, which is the current factor pushing her polls up.