Demystifying the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

G Magazine

Managing a country's carbon emissions is a huge and pressing task, and the CPRS is the Australian Government's response to meeting this challenge - but what exactly is it all about?


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"Dad, what's a CPRS?" the boy asked his father.

"CPRS stands for Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme," Geoff replied. "It's how Australia intends to cut its greenhouse emissions. Why do you ask, son?"

"Well, we were discussing it in class and Johnno says it seriously sucks. His dad reckons if it happens he'll lose his job and they'll have to move somewhere else."

Johnno's dad is a coal miner, Geoff thought. Maybe he's right. If you believe what the coal industry is saying in the papers, this CPRS could shut down the local mine. That'd solve a few of the valley's environmental problems. Of course, it might also throttle the local economy.

"Then Johnno almost got in a fight with Sinbad," continued the boy. "Sinbad reckons coal is killing the planet and the CPRS has to be stronger or this drought we're suffering will go on forever."

That'd be right, thought Geoff. Sinbad's parents are dyed-in-the-wool greenies. They may not be so happy if the village becomes a ghost town after the CPRS comes into effect.

"So, who's right Dad?" asked the boy. "Why is the CPRS causing fights? And will it affect our family too?" "I'm not sure, son."

The CPRS fog

Geoff's not the only one who's a bit unsure about the CPRS. A recent Green-Tracker survey by the Mobium Group found that one third of Australians surveyed had not heard of the CPRS, two thirds could not name the scheme's initial reduction target and fewer than one in 10 people had a good understanding of how it works.

Now the Federal Government claims the CPRS is "one of the largest and most important structural reforms to our economy in a generation". But how can something so important be so obscure to the average Australian?

The answer, in part, lies in the complexity of the scheme itself. But it also relates to the nature of the problem that the CPRS is attempting to deal with - climate change.

The concept is not that difficult to understand, but it has been cloaked in a fog of changing details, rhetoric and hyperbole. The details seem to be changing almost daily, so let's just ponder the basics of how the CPRS works.

How to reduce carbon emissions?

Currently, industry and consumers pay nothing to emit greenhouse gas pollution. There is no incentive to avoid emissions, nor to develop less polluting alternatives. And Australia has the highest greenhouse emissions per person of any industrialised country. So how do we reduce our carbon emissions to a safe level without wrecking the economy?

One incentive, more of a disincentive really, is simply to tax emissions to make them more expensive. A number of countries, including Norway, Sweden, Germany, Japan and the UK have already introduced such measures.

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