• Opinion is divided - does Australia need a carbon tax, or don't we?

    Posted by Phil

    13 July, 2011

    I, for one, think we do.

    I'm a long time supporter of Micah Challenge and I'm just finishing off a PhD that looks at the impacts of human caused climate change on people in the developing world. Climate change is already impacting poor communities around the globe. For example, in Nepal the weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable, with increasing extremes like floods and droughts. It is the poor who are being hit first and hit the hardest.

    You may or may not know that as part of their Share the Earth: MDG7 campaign this year, Micah Challenge has been asking the government to take a leadership position in international efforts to address climate change. I've sat at tables where Micah Challenge coalition partners have discussed and debated whether to engage supporters in the climate change debate. Micah Challenge is very wary of the potential for the debate to distract people from their purpose of halving poverty and achieving the MDGs. The Micah Challenge coalition has chosen to engage through necessity - because climate change represents a serious threat to the achievement of the MDGs.

    What does it look like for Australia to take a leadership position? Up until this point, Australia has been about as far from leading the way in this debate as a nation could possibly be. The graph below shows just how far behind the rest of the developed world our current commitments place us. Some recent research from Oxfam Australia revealed that even developing countries (who have far less capacity to adapt to the changes necessary to reduce emissions) are also making more of an effort to cut their emissions than developed countries. Australia is falling behind international action on climate change and is failing the least of these around the world.

    Where does Australia currently rank on global emission reduction targets?

    For full size click here

    While the carbon tax package announced by the government on Sunday is far from ideal in my opinion, it does represent a significant step towards action, and a step towards leadership. It is a good start to help Australia catch up to international action on climate change.

    Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this whole debate is the self centred nature of it. It makes sense that people are concerned for how this will affect them, but if that means they lose sight of the reality that climate change is a far greater problem for the world's poor, then we have missed the boat - particularly as Christians.

    It is particularly disappointing to see that the government has missed the opportunity to secure much needed additional support for the poor in their carbon price announcement. The government could use a small proportion of this new stream of revenue to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. This would mean that we would not need to draw upon the existing aid budget (which is needed to achieve the MDGs) to address the new challenge of adaptation.We have been pumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere at excessive rates for decades and it is the poor who have been paying the environmental price for our pollution.

    My hope is that we can help shift the conversation a little. Yes, this is about us, but not ONLY ABOUT US. As a nation we can and should be taking a lead on helping the poorest nations and people of the world adapt to a changing climate.

    Phil Ireland is a long time supporter of Micah Challenge and former member of our Climate working group. Phil advises several organisations on climate change policy and is currently completing a PhD looking at climate change and international development.