But is it really worthy of such widespread condemnation?
Only days before the international climate change summitThe plan was developed in Glasgow and focuses on technological solutions. No emissions-intensive sectors, such as mining or manufacturing, are allowed to make voluntary efforts to reduce their emissions.
We can evaluate the plan’s sincerity through a lens of good practice policy making. My recently published paperBased on a thorough review of the past 30 years’ national environment and sustainability policies, I created a policy evaluation framework. This includes national water, forest and biodiversity policies as well as land use policies.
Bad policy processes are more likely to produce tangible outcomes than good practice policy making. So how does the government’s net-zero plan rate?
We can see why the plan is so superficial and won’t deliver the emission reductions it promises if we compare it to six high-level policy design criteria.
1. Is there a legitimate reason that the federal government should be involved?
This is not well-argued.
Under Australia’s constitution, powers to manage natural resource use and extraction are largely vested in the states. The federal government’s powers lie predominantly in giving effect to international agreements (which climate change is squarely in scope) and in regulating international trade.
The export of fossil fuels could certainly be an area the government can exercise restrictions on, should it choose to take a strong stance on emissions reduction – but it isn’t. In the past, it has used these powers. manage logging of native forestsFor example,
That the plan is marketed as being “uniquely Australian” is, in itself, damning because climate change requires cooperative global effort. Doing things “the Australian way” isn’t credible because if the Australian way was truly effective, it would soon become the “global way”.
2. Did stakeholders engage in a concerted effort?
The plan appears to have been drafted by one department of government and then released once. the National Party was appeased.
Good policy processes should involve extensive consultation with state and federal representatives (including opposition parties, independents, and industry stakeholders) (including the renewables sector as well as environmental groups). This would help to understand the problem better and encourage buy-in from all stakeholders to solve it.
Clear objectives and principles can drive collaboration. However, a lack of consensus on the plan will lead to its failure.
3. Are the policy objectives clear?
A plan should clearly define what success looks like and how it will happen. The plan’s failure to define clear objectives is a major problem. While net zero by 2050 is a clear goal, we need more detail about how we’d get there, including timelines and targets.
A national plan should also include meaningful principles. An example of a principle could be “incentivise investments in renewables and eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels”. This would guide the action of the plan’s signatories.
Most importantly, the plan should outline a clear case for change, but it does the opposite – it largely assumes business as usual can prevail.
4. How will this be implemented?
If the goal is to reduce emissions, there must be a clear path to the end point, with clearly defined actions, responsibilities, and timelines. These are missing.
The plan should clearly identify who is responsible for delivering what actions and when. Effective implementation Australia-wide is impossible if there is not a national climate change lead agency.
As a minimum, a plan that is effective would create partnerships with other states. This would include new commitments to shared funding, long implementation times due to the nature and scale of the problem, as well as the ability to develop subsidiary plans and policies.
In fact, states are following the example of the federal government even though they lack real leadership forging their own inter-governmental agreements to reach net zero.
5. Does the plan include different policy instruments
The plan makes it clear the government will not mandate any actions to reduce emissions – Australian households and businesses can choose whether they engage with the policy. But change doesn’t occur merely because a document gets published.
Good policy results require a combination (subsidies and grants), penalties (taxes and fines), and soft power (education campaigns), such as the one that was used with the management of Australian marine fisheries For example,
The federal government has the ability to contribute substantial funds to promote change. It has allocated A$20 billion to the cause of the problem, but this is woefully insufficient. The government is willing to spend. at least A$90 billion on submarines which won’t be fully delivered until well after 2050.
Large and ongoing investments in reform are necessary to address an existential crisis. Ineffective implementation is inevitable if there is no funding commitment.
6. Is it possible to evaluate the policy in order to determine its effectiveness?
Every five years, the plan will be reviewed to assess its progress. However, there aren’t any clear metrics to measure effectiveness of policy because they lack clearly defined objectives.
In the absence of a clear agency, or agencies, to implement the plan, the likelihood that reporting will be inconsistent between reporting periods increases.
What’s more, an over-reliance on technological advancements, some yet to be conceived and with no obligations for uptake, suggests data sources will be vague and unlikely to inform progress.
The government should require emissions reductions to be mandatory. Compliance measures would also need to be in place. It should also identify signposts of what success would look like to offer reference points from which to evaluate the policy’s effectiveness.
Warmer climate means more hot air
The plan’s basic evaluation shows that the government’s intentions are not clear. The plan assumes that emissions reduction will occur while we carry on with our business as usual.
Many criticisms of the plan can be well-founded, and the absence good policy processes supports them.
After years of dismissing the science behind global warming and climate science, it would be quite a shock for the Coalition government be able to respond to its needs. citizens’ concerns on climate change. Adopting good practice policy-making processes would show it’s now taking the matter seriously.
COP26: experts react to the UN climate summit and Glasgow Pact