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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Green groups criticize Federal Government for slashing climate programs

Environment, climate change and green groups have criticized the Federal Government for budget cuts to solar development and carbon reduction programs, as part of its reconstruction program for rebuilding Queensland after the devastating floods.

Deferring expenditure in the solar flagship program is of major concern for the development of industry scale solar power stations in Australia, necessary for converting our reliance on carbon intensive coal fired power to renewable technologies. A US study has shown the feasibility of converting global power to 100 per cent carbon emission neutral alternative energy technologies in 20 to 40 years, similar to the Australian study by Beyond Zero Emissions with the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 report, launched in July 2010.

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard today announced a Flood Levy to raise nearly $2billion along with budget cuts to solar development and carbon reduction programs saving of $675million from the budget.

Green programs being deferred or cut include:

* Green Car Innovation Fund - Axed
* Cleaner Car Rebate scheme ("Cash for clunkers" program) - Axed
* Carbon Capture and Storage Flagship program - Deferred
* Solar Flagships schemes - Deferred
* Solar Hot Water Rebate scheme - Capped
* Green Start program (Grants scheme to replace failed Green loans program) - Axed
* Global Capture and Storage Institute - Funding capped

The Flood levy will only kick in at an income rate of $50,000 where it is set as 0.5%, rising to 1.0% for people on income over $100,000.

Australian Conservation Foundation response

Tony Mohr, the Australian Conservation Foundation Climate Change Program Manager said in a media release:

"So, the flood disaster fund will be partially funded by scrapping 'cash-for-clunkers', which in turn was partially funded by taking away money from the Solar Flagships program,"

"We do need to rebuild and recover swiftly after the floods, but cutting programs that reduce pollution is not the answer.

"The government should stop the money-go-round and put a price on pollution this year.

"The $2000 rebate for trading in a pre-1995 car and buying a new, efficient vehicle was a positive move, but ACF would have preferred a scheme that encouraged people to buy very efficient vehicles, whether they were new or second-hand.

"And the money to fund cash-for-clunkers should never have been taken from the important Solar Flagship program and the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme.

"An economy-wide price on pollution would have numerous positive results for Australia.

"It would make clean technologies, including efficient cars and renewable energies like solar, more cost competitive.

"And some of the revenue from a price on pollution could be set aside for climate change adaptation and disaster relief, so we're as prepared as we can be for extreme weather events like floods and bushfires.

"This summer's floods are an example of the extreme weather events climate scientists have warned will be more frequent and more severe with climate change.

"We can greatly reduce the severity of extreme weather events if we rein in greenhouse pollution."

Climate Institute response

The CEO of the Climate Institute John Connor also criticised the Government for cutting the carbon reduction and green schemes in a media release:

"It is critical that polluters, not just taxpayers, begin to take responsibility and contribute to reduce our carbon pollution, develop cleaner industries and help prepare Australia for the increasing number of climate extreme events to come from accelerating climate change,"

"No-one is shedding a tear for the demise of the 'cash-for-clunkers' program but slashing investment in utility scale solar or carbon capture and storage technologies, let alone solar hot water programs, is extremely short-sighted.

"These public investments are crucial to develop cleaner energy industries even with a price on pollution.

"It is remarkable that carbon abatement programs have been singled out while fossil fuel subsidies, such as fringe benefits tax breaks for car use and diesel fuel rebates for miners remain untouched.

"Climate change is not just about warmer weather it's about wilder weather and the devastating economic costs that we've seen from recent floods, bushfires and droughts will mount without decisive action on pollution and climate change."

"Whether the recent events are related to recent global warming or not may remain in question, but there is no question more climate extremes are predicted to come and they will increase the cost of living and working in Australia.

"An extreme weather event levy could become the 'new normal' as we see more climate-change fuelled weather wreak environmental, social and economic damage across Australia.

"The Queensland and Victorian floods have highlighted the economic costs from extreme weather touching virtually all sectors of the economy - climate change is far from just an environmental issue, it is an economic one."

"The Prime Minister is right to highlight the importance of a price on pollution but that is only part of the job in reducing our pollution, growing cleaner energy solutions and helping global efforts to avoid increasing climate extremes," concluded Mr Connor.

Greens response

Senator Christine Milne also responded for the Greens in a media release:

"Helping to rebuild shattered communities left in the wake of these devastating floods is a top priority for Australians and the Greens firmly stand behind that goal," Australian Greens Acting Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said.

"But it does a disservice to all those tragically affected by these floods - and all those whose lives will be thrown into turmoil by more floods, fires, storms and droughts in years to come - to keep insisting that these are one off events and ignore the role of climate change.

"It beggars belief that the government would choose to cut climate change programs like Solar Flagships, energy efficiency and the solar hot water rebate to fund disaster relief when such disasters will be made worse by climate change.

"We must recognise that less than 1C of global warming is making these human, economic and environmental disasters a part of life this century. We need to start planning now for the reality of climate change and redouble our efforts to return to a safe climate, not cut back on that effort.

"Contrary to speculation this morning by Saul Eslake, the Greens have had no discussions with the government about the proposed flood levy as yet, but we will be seeking to start those discussions as soon as possible.

"The Greens have proposed deferring the top end corporate tax cuts planned for July 1 2013, while keeping the cuts for small business.

"This would net the government around $1.7 billion in the forward estimates, protect low income earners and small businesses and enable the government to reverse its decision to cut critical climate programs.

"While we are open to the idea of a levy, the Greens see establishing a long-term, well-resourced disaster relief fund as a high priority in the face of climate change.

"Rebuilding in the wake of a climate-related disaster presents an opportunity to make sure new infrastructure is built with climate change in mind. This means building in resilience to worse disasters to come by reviewing planning laws and building standards as well as focussing on high efficiency, low emissions options like public transport and renewable energy infrastructure.

"Public funds from this levy or elsewhere should not be spent on more coal infrastructure that will only make the situation worse for all of us.

"The Greens' final position on the levy will be considered by the party room."

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