Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Age Economic Survey: Carbon tax please

THE opinion polls disagree, but market economists in The Age survey panel almost unanimously endorse a price on carbon as the best way to tackle climate change.

BT's Chris Caton summed up the mood of the panel in a few terse words: "Yes", he said to a carbon tax. "The science is now beyond question. The key danger is making the legislation too complicated and inefficient by loading it up with 'special treatment' for polluting industries, petrol etc."

"The government should definitely have a carbon tax", said Richard Robinson of BIS Shrapnel.

"The main danger is affecting the competitiveness of the tradeables sectors, especially manufacturing sectors such as steel and aluminium. Some sort of compensation should be provided to these industries, but [it] should decrease over time . . . We should not, however, provide compensation to the electricity generators, coal producers or LNP/gas producers."

Monash University economist Jakob Madsen rejected the idea that a carbon tax would create unemployment. "Carbon prices have the same economic effects as oil price hikes," he said. "Oil prices have increased several fold over the past decade, and yet it has not had any visible unemployment effects."

Melbourne University iconoclast Neville Norman voted "maybe". While supporting a carbon tax in principle, he wants to see the detail of the plan, evidence of its likely impact and a compensation package focused "on those who hurt, rather than those who scream".

There were two dissenting voices. Greg Evans of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned of "significant implications for our competitiveness in moving ahead of our trade competitors".

"We should not impose a unilateral carbon price on the domestic economy until there is agreed global action to do the same", he said.

"Prior to confirmed global action, Australia's response to mitigating climate emissions should rely on efficiency and technology measures adopted in the marketplace."

Sarah Gorman of Dun & Bradstreet mused that "it might be optimal for humanity in the long run if Australia imposed a steep export tax on coal". But rather than taxing emissions, policy should "help the economy prepare for the likely shocks of climate change".