Fossil fuel carbon levy would fund climate ‘solutions’

Poppy Johnston |

Australia has the best wind, solar and biomass combined resources in the world, Rod Sims says.
Australia has the best wind, solar and biomass combined resources in the world, Rod Sims says.

Imposing a levy on fossil fuel companies as proposed by a green industry think tank would be a boon for employment, help lower living costs and underpin another round of prosperity to rival the mining boom. 

That’s the promise of leading economist Ross Garnaut and former consumer watchdog chair Rod Sims made in a national address on Wednesday as founder and chair of The Superpower Institute.

The pair want a carbon pricing policy back on the agenda despite the deep political scarring on the issue.

“This is the start of the game, not the end,” said Professor Sims, recognising the policy idea would probably be dismissed in the first instance.

What Prof Garnaut and Prof Sims call a “carbon solutions levy” is part of their 15-step policy plan to cement Australia’s place as a green exports superpower. 

The levy would impose a price equivalent to the European scheme on every tonne of carbon extracted from below the ground or imported into Australia.

“It’s essentially a transfer from fossil fuel companies to the 27 million Australian population,” Prof Sims told the audience.

Rod Sims and Ross Garnaut at the National Press Club.
The Superpower Institute’s Rod Sims and Ross Garnaut say a “carbon solutions” levy is needed. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The proceeds could be used in a range of ways, including compensating electricity users as well as helping fund other areas of the superpower plan, including a grants scheme for innovative projects.

“Basic economics means you must price the damage that fossil carbon imposes on us all,” Prof Sims said.

“Not to do so is to make it essentially impossible for green products to compete with currently cheaper fossil fuel products.”

The levy and other aspects of the multi-pronged plan will set Australia up to supply Europe with the green metals and other products it needs once its carbon border adjustment mechanism starts in 2026.

The scheme will impose a charge on the carbon embedded in products. Steel made from renewable energy or hydrogen, for example, would attract no charge but a fossil fuel-made product would.

Under the plan, fossil fuel industries would gradually be phased out as new industries took over, but they said jobs creation would be “immense” and concentrated in the regions.

“We won’t be worrying about unemployment – we’ll be worrying about where we get the workers from.” 

Prof Sims said Australia had the best solar, wind and biomass combined resources in the world.

But unlike Australia’s existing metal and energy exports that are easily transported to other countries to be turned into valuable products, it’s harder to move renewable energy around.

“So the economics have completely flipped, it makes economic sense that these things are made in Australia,” he said.

Were Australia to double down on green metals and other goods, the nation could cut anywhere between six and nine per cent of global emissions.

“If we don’t do these things, we’re letting down Australia’s future prosperity and we’re letting down the world’s climate,” Prof Sims said. 

Federal industry Minister Ed Husic.
Federal industry Minister Ed Husic says a fossil fuel levy isn’t needed for the net zero transition. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Federal industry and Science Minister Ed Husic said a fossil fuels levy was not necessary to reorient Australia’s industrial base for the net zero transition.

“We’re doing a lot of work on his front but don’t need to necessarily embrace the levy,” the minister told ABV TV on Wednesday.

“I think we will get there through other means.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt backed the policy proposal. 

“A carbon solutions levy could significantly cut global pollution and help supercharge a new green metals export industry,” he said.

AAP