A Familiar Ring to the Cap-and-Trade Grudge Match in Australia


A partisan divide, climate change doubters ridiculed by by environmental advocates, concerns about the global competitive impact of being a carbon control leader, and uncertainties surrounding market function, pricing and cost to consumers… Sound familiar?

Now imagine it all in Paul Hogan’s accent instead of in the halls of the Capitol, and you have the Australian debate over cap-and-trade legislation.

NYT runs a story that gives evidence of one of the major obstacles to getting real global energy reform, the “you first” problem.

The story notes, “Conservatives say [the country]should not commit itself to any target before the world’s biggest emitters — China and the United States — lay their cards on the table, and a successor to the Kyoto agreement, which expires in 2012, is reached.”

In other words, the Aussies are waiting for us. We’re waiting for the Chinese and Indians, they aren’t sure they want to play the game anyway. And, everyone is waiting to see what happens in Copenhagen in December, but its unlikely that anything substantial can be achieved without national action in the interim.

And there have been few profiles in courage on climate change and cap-and-trade. Leadership has been lacking on this geopolitical scale, where no one but the Europeans has taken a carbon cap-and-trade leap. And, on the national political stage, the progressives have compromised on the bill to a faretheewell at the urging of brown state Dems who are trying to protect their local industries, and the GOP has taken the head in the sand approach by hiding behind scare tactics.

Now that science seems to agree that the world needs to act together to make real progress on reversing climate change, political institutions will have to adapt from the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” Kabuki dance.

The UN has done admirably in advocating for climate change policy and breaking the issue down into self-interest slices that can appeal to the developed and developing world. But, it doesn’t have the horses to get consensus or force action. What’s needed is a coalition that leverages soft power, economic incentive and mutual interest. All the more reason for the US to take the lead. But, even if Waxman-Markey can make it through this summer, the legislation is not likely to generate a Jerry Maguire “slow clap” (see video below) when Obama walks the lobby in Copenhagen this winter.

[photo credit: Chang Huang]

Watch the video “Jerry Maguire: The Things We Think and Do Not Say” on YouTube

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