The research will be handed to the federal government, along with recommendations it address lingering business concerns about carbon pricing regulations and clarify its plans to offer incentives to continue the investment many have already made to cut their emissions.
The business concerns will add pressure on the federal government around the Renewable Energy Target, especially after 99% of the 24,000 submissions to the review of the RET were in favour of the policy, according to the Clean Energy Council. Acting chief executive Kane Thornton said only 56 called for a reduction in the target.
“The Australian public has again shown its overwhelming support for renewable energy through this review, in addition to the fact that over four million Australians already live or work under a solar power system,” Thornton said.
The Deakin recommendations are contained in the Carbon Risk Management: In an Era of Changing Regulations report based on a survey of 87 of Australia’s biggest emitters. Deakin asked Australia’s biggest emitters from industries including energy, manufacturing, mining and construction what they were doing to reduce risks associated with managing pollution, including minimising emissions and associated costs such as the now defunct carbon tax.
The survey was part of a larger research project between Deakin’s Centre for Sustainable and Responsible Organisations (CSaRO) and Macquarie University, funded by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Project scheme. CSaRO director Professor Nava Subramaniam said the survey found half the respondents felt little or no choice but to continue to invest in management systems that would lead to better risk controls and measures to reduce pollution levels.
“However, the majority of respondents did not agree that the government’s planned Emissions Reduction Fund would benefit their company. This appears to be much related to poor articulation of the policy to date,” he said.
An overwhelming 80% of respondents believed the carbon tax would be replaced in some form in the future anyway. Prof Subramaniam said the survey showed Australian companies were in limbo.
“To stop the good work that many of them have started on setting carbon management systems would be unwise. Such investments need to be viewed from a mid to long-term stance. A bundle of complementary policies are needed including energy efficiency initiatives, low carbon electricity generation and regulatory sanctions,” she said.
“Yes the problem is complicated and thus the solution needs to be sophisticated. On the positive side, many companies feel it prudent to continue with some of their carbon management practices, and not drop the ball on being better environmental neighbours in the community. Corporate social responsibilities as well as brand image play a critical role. Clearly, it is not simply a matter of a carbon tax or no carbon tax. But while this may ultimately be a good thing, the government must heed the warnings from this report.
“The reality is most companies do not see the repeal as the last word on Australia’s carbon policy, but a prelude to an unknown future where some form of carbon impost is re-introduced, whatever the name next time around. Businesses are waiting for confirmation of what exactly the government plans to do with its talked-about but ill-explained Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), set to replace the carbon tax.
“They are therefore waiting to find out what they need to do, how much they need to spend, when and on what, in order to be eligible for the incentives to flow from the fund. And waiting to see when the next policy U-turn might occur and therefore how they can prepare for when a new form of the carbon impost emerges.”
But Professor Subramaniam said business couldn’t afford to wait, and nor can Australia if it wants to keep up with the likes of China, Korea and the US, which are all preparing to lower their own carbon emissions.