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Australia is an 'embarassment' on climate change

Were you to arrive in Australia and read the front pages of our newspapers you would be forgiven for thinking that we are living in some type of black hole, devoid of information, news and expert opinion from the rest the world.

What other possible explanation could there be for the ignorance of those who warn of the end of civilisation were a carbon tax to established than by claiming Australia would be out on a limb, leading the world.

Leading the world? You've got to be joking. Many other countries have already put a price on carbon and introduced realistic pollution reduction targets. And while they are spending significant public and private dollars firming up investment in the technologies and energy sources for the future, Australia is still locked in a debate over whether big polluters should even pay for their pollution.

Unfortunately this isn't just leaving us with a reputation of being environmentally blind, it is also costing us real jobs right here in our own backyard.

Let's just take Europe for example, where many countries have already had a carbon tax for 10 years or more.

I've just returned from an official parliamentary delegation to Denmark, Sweden and Greece, meeting with various governments, MPs, businesses and industry leaders. Meeting after meeting the message was clear - Australia is far behind in tackling greenhouse gas emissions and absent in using smart investment choices to drive the use of renewable energy.

Business leaders wanting to invest in Australia would say "Australia has great wind, solar opportunities but until there's a carbon price we can't afford to start-up there".

The delegation would have to explain that Australia is lagging because we still don't have an agreement from some parties that polluters should pay for their pollution and that the market should be given the signals to drive reform.

Admittedly, many European countries had to change their ways some 30 years ago as a result of the oil crisis in the Middle East, forcing them to find more self-sufficient ways to power their homes and industry. Development in wind-power, hydro-electricity and bio-fuel among others ensured that there has been a multi-source mix of power for decades.

Now, in the face of climate change, the EU members have signed up to the 20-20-20 platform (20 per cent emission reductions with at least 20 per cent of renewable power and energy efficiency increase all by 2020). And as a result there is now a race between the countries as to who can be more ambitious in order to secure the industry investment on their soil.

While countries like Sweden have had a carbon tax for 20 years, the debate in parliaments throughout Europe is how they can become carbon neutral by 2050. The idea that those who pollute should pay for the cost of that pollution is simply understood as commonsense. Political parties from the far-right to the far-left agree with a carbon tax and the need to reduce pollution.

They all agree with the polluter pays system and that taking action on climate change can also be good for business.

The message to take home from our European cousins is that we are falling embarrassingly behind in facing the realities of climate change. From a business perspective our lacklustre someone-else-will-wash-the-dishes attitude is costing investment opportunities and real jobs in manufacturing, construction and service delivery.

And to Barnaby Joyce, who doesn't want Australia to lead the way - well, it's okay, no need to worry, we're not.

This was first published on the National Times on the 19th of April 2011.

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