Sharan Burrow: Combating global warming is a shared task

Tackling climate change will have one of the biggest structural impacts on our economy and our environment since World War II.

As with the financial crisis, no one sector will be able to de-couple their own self-interest from the effects of global warming.

Decisive action to reduce carbon pollution, however, is not incompatible with economic and jobs growth. In fact, how we respond to the challenge of global warming will determine our long-term economic prospects.

Smart economies will position themselves to be globally competitive in a low carbon future with a structural transition plan to protect existing jobs, ensure the industries they are in are the most carbon efficient in the world, and simultaneously drive an aggressive approach to new economic activity whether it is related to traditional industries or in the emerging green collar sector.

The ACTU and all unions are determined to see jobs in energy-intensive industries protected both today and in a low carbon economy of the future.

But equally there is in Australia potentially 850,000 jobs by 2030 in greening our industries. Manufacturing, construction, renewable energy, waste and other green collar areas offer considerable potential to create jobs and export opportunities.

We have already seen the Howard government waste more than a decade by failing to invest in skills, failing to drive investment in traditional industries and failing to lead in renewal energy and emerging green manufacturing companies.

We must now do everything to encourage the policy settings that ensure we drive the investment necessary to win a significant share of what will be a $US3 trillion global green market by 2020.

Industry voices have been dominated by those peddling fear in order to maximise compensation, but surely they must now be prepared to face up to the reality of global warming and be accountable for investing in more efficient practices.

All unions will fight for jobs and growth in their sectors, and on this the business community will have our support. But in turn how about some maturity from the business community and some shared responsibility for creating a smarter economy that builds a sustainable future for all. Sacrificing one sector of our economy for another is not necessary and not acceptable.

It’s time for all sectoral interests, including big business, to put aside the lobbying and employers must carry their share of the weight to transform our economy through emissions trading, energy efficiency measures, clean technologies and renewal energy sources.

We must all work together on this.

There will be a robust international debate about global targets in the lead up to the Copenhagen agreement. Clear targets are necessary to save agricultural jobs in areas like the Murray-Darling Basin and tourism jobs on the Great Barrier Reef. Our government must position itself to fight for jobs in every sector of Australia.

But amidst all the shouting right now an essential fact is missing. To avoid a major disaster, we must aim to keep warming below 2 degrees. But we do not have to do it all through an emissions trading scheme.

Let’s look at all the options and if the economy can genuinely only generate a 15% reduction then surely other measures can be aggregated. The Mandatory Renewable Energy Target and our capacity to meet the growing demand for energy through renewable sources,  investment in green infrastructure, green building standards and renewing rural ecosystems - even assisting our poorer neighbours with deforestation and reforestation. All of these measures and more can be aggregated to deepen cuts to emissions without extra burden on business.

The global financial crisis and the potential impact on employment shows another way that we can make green investment work for the economy, the environment and jobs for Australian families. That is why the ACTU with ACOSS, the Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Federation is calling for a ‘green new deal’ - an urgent stimulus package of investment into a program of retrofitting housing and commercial and public buildings to make them more water and energy efficient, and into infrastructure assets that will reduce our carbon footprint.

The Government response to the global financial crisis and the threat to jobs can result in targeting stimulus measures that make green investment work for the economy, the environment and jobs for Australian families.

That is why the ACTU along with ACOSS, the Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Federation is calling for a ‘green new deal’ - an urgent stimulus package of investment into a program of retrofitting housing and commercial and public buildings to make them more water and energy efficient, and into infrastructure assets that will reduce our carbon footprint.

Let’s stop the posturing and look for the solutions.

The rationale for a softer start to a carbon trading scheme in the absence of a global deal is understandable, and I have no doubt affected businesses will be relieved. The real action, however, is in an international agreement which ironically will also work for those loud business voices who will in turn benefit from global sectoral agreements.

Hence, our Government should not close the door on revising its target if there is a comprehensive international agreement and neither should business want it to.

Finally, in the best Australian tradition, the Government should move to manage the different voices, and immediately establish an advisory mechanism where all players can work together - business, unions, community and environmental sectors. This is the model the Hawke Government successfully used to drive major economic reform in the 1980s, and Kevin Rudd should do the same.