Just reading it makes you tired

Abbott leaves Australia tomorrow for the APEC summit in China, followed by the East Asia Summit in Myanmar and then it’s back home for the G20 summit in Brisbane, and official bilateral ­visits by Britain’s David Cameron, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande.

And while he’s at the G20 in Brisbane, US President Barack Obama will deliver a major address on the US in Asia. Phew! Just listing it makes you tired.

Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 08/11/2014

I think it tells you everything you need to know about Greg Sheridan that copying and pasting the Prime Ministerial itinerary into a Word document each week is a mentally exhausting task. Since he describes the Australian media as ‘incompetent and lazy’, and since he recently invited us to contemplate ‘the facts’ (about Gough Whitlam; an invitation I was only too happy to take him up on) I thought I might as well examine what he had to say about international efforts to deal with climate change. Sheridan takes as his point of intellectual departure the observation that Republicans have solidified their hold on the House of Representatives in the United States and obtained a majority in the Senate:

Every single Republican in both houses of congress is absolutely committed to the idea that there will never be a national carbon tax or emissions trading scheme in the US.

Perhaps this is true, although Sheridan has no way of knowing it. As it happens, some Republican representatives who voted in favour of the Waxman-Markey emissions trading scheme proposal are still in Congress, and though some of them (here’s looking at you, Leonard Lance) have recanted, the positions of others, like Dave Reichert and Frank LoBiondo, are unknown.

The Australian media is very incompetent and lazy in the way it accepts climate change propaganda about international ETS schemes and carbon taxes. But the plain facts are these: the US, Japan, Canada and Australia have turned their backs on carbon taxes and the like. Indonesia spends a quarter of its national budget on fuel subsidies, the very opposite of a carbon tax. China and India are continuing to commission coal-fired power stations and cannot even nominate when their peak emission years will arrive. China’s provincial ETS schemes are effectively meaningless.

Here, for Sheridan’s benefit, are some more ‘plain facts’. The United States is, true, unlikely to have a national ET or carbon tax any time soon. But California has a carbon price, and if California were to secede (are there any Californian secessionists?) it would be one of the largest economies in the world. The states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont are part of a Northeastern ETS. Have the residents of these states then ‘turned their backs on carbon taxes and the like?’ Japan also does not have a national emissions trading scheme, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government does.

At a national level, Canada is at present a laggard. But the Harper government, at least judging by the polls, seems to be trundling off to defeat next year, and both the Grits and the NDP are in favour of a price on carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the province of British Colombia has had a carbon tax for five years now. Quebec has an ETS. Alberta kind-of has one. Indonesia certainly spends a lot of money on fuel subsidies. (How much exactly, though? Sheridan says a quarter here, but then again a few weeks ago a certain Monsieur Gregoire Sheridane of the Australian had this to say: ‘[President Joko Widodo] will need to reduce the fuel subsidy, which takes up a fifth of the entire national budget. So I don’t know—split the difference, maybe?) But get a load of this: they just elected a President who promised to cut those subsidies. And could Sheridan kindly point to the Australian media outlet that has denied that Australia has repealed its carbon price?

Sheridan’s treatment of international economics is, hélas, no better. When he is not arguing that the ’94 Bogor Declaration did not ‘produce free trade in Asia’ even though it provided ‘momentum for trade liberalisation’ (reconciling those two statements is left as an exercise for the reader), Sheridan has some sniffing to do about commentators who have—I think quite correctly—had a go at his best mate about Australia’s failure to sign up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank:

Despite the choir-like unanimity of the commentators, the Abbott government was right not to sign up just yet to China’s new infrastructure bank. Abbott has not decided not to join the bank. He has decided not to join the bank for the moment…In fact, if such a ramshackle and undefined proposal as that put up by Beijing had been put up by Washington, Canberra would not have joined, and would have been applauded.

Yes, I personally cannot think of any ramshackle and undefined proposals emanating from the Washington that Canberra has ever gone along with.


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