Back in 2010, Australia was about to legislate a carbon price. Not the ‘great big tax’ that haunted the Gillard government but its predecessor, the Climate Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), an attempt at emission control when the political climate still had a whiff of progress about it.
The CPRS, a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme for anthropogenic greenhouse gases proposed by the Rudd government as part of its climate change policy, was voted down by the Greens. Under Bob Brown’s leadership, they decided it was too little, the targets were too weak. The perfect getting in the way of the good.
Instead of a start, there was no price on carbon and an open the door to the naysayers who ambled their way through for a good laugh and some appalling behaviour.
What followed was a decade of inaction, political assassinations of prime ministers, and the mess we are in now with the current PM not wanting to go to COP because he is held ransom by a bunch of clowns who think a $250 billion public purse to prop up coal mining is an idea. I could go on.
In the end, he went and tried to make climate change about submarines.
Progress is a process.
I know progress can be slow when there are values at stake. It takes time to test the water, convince the recalcitrants and avoid failure from unforeseen consequences.
And in politics, most important, do not scare the horses.
The reality that the Greens missed so badly back in 2010 is that some good is possible along the slow path to the perfect.
For example, when 136 countries sign up to a minimum corporate tax of 15% we should all applaud and pat the negotiators on the back. And yes, even if one of them is the forever on the nose Mr Cormann.
The agreement means that countries would legislate a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent for companies with annual revenues over 750 billion euros ($1.2 trillion), the big end of town. Then, if these big players have earnings that go untaxed or lightly taxed in one of the world’s tax havens, their home country would impose a top-up tax that would bring the rate to 15 per cent.
No more squirrelling away revenues from IP and other intangibles in the Cayman Islands without paying up.
This is a tiny step toward a more even distribution of wealth creation through governments legislating some trickle down to slow the charge to wealth inequality that grips the world. Recall that would be the trickle of wealth that the neoliberals claim is an inevitable consequence of successful economic growth.
Sure 20%, even 40%, would be better and more realistic. But 15% is a start.
Some developing countries and advocacy groups say the 15% is too low and leaves far too much tax revenue on the table. And although the global minimum would capture some $205 billion in new revenue for governments, most of it would go to rich countries where many of the big multinationals are headquartered.
This is a similar argument the Greens spouted when they couldn’t let the big emitters get away with it under the CPRS. They wanted justice right away.
Too far too soon.
The point here is that progress needs time and increments. It can do leaps, but the circumstances must be just right for rapid advances to stick. Waiting around for those opportunities is a luxury that humanity lost when it found fossil fuels.
Stick at the process
The option to wait for the leap that can only happen when the stars align and the wind is blowing away the smell is no longer risky, it is suicidal.
We have to stick at the process of incremental change. It is painful to support such a puny percentage as 15% but it’s way better than waiting for donut economics to appear and change the whole game.
What the Greens did in 2010 was irresponsible, even for them. What the leaders have done since is on a par.
But a carbon price back in 2010 would have seen a small but effective change in the emission trajectory and a far greater chance of reaching any targets that the world would have us set now.