Which portfolio should the Greens take?

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It’s a commonplace in politics, as it is in most things, that it’s better to focus limited resources on a few objectives than to spread them thin over a broad front.

So I’m therefore more than a little surprised that the Greens in Victoria, fresh from winning the Federal seat of Melbourne, are reportedly going to demand the Transport portfolio if they control the balance of power at the next State election (here and here).

If true that strikes me as a curious demand. There are doubtless complex political issues around why the Greens would even want a Ministry, but in terms of the scope for improving the environment it seems to me that Energy would be a more logical choice than the Transport portfolio.

There are a number of reasons for this view.

First, as this report prepared for the 2008 Victorian Climatechange Summit shows, electricity is a far larger generator of CO2 emissions than the transport sector. In Victoria, 64% of all carbon emissions are generated by the residential, commercial and manufacturing sectors. Almost all of this carbon is emitted from coal-fired power stations.

In comparison, all passenger transport in the State – by both car and public transport – generates 14% of Victoria’s total carbon emissions. The transport of freight is responsible for another 5%. Comparable figures are also published in The Victorian Transport Plan.

So on the face of it there’re potentially much bigger gains for the environment from clean energy production than there are from clean transport. Read the rest of this entry »

Is water priced to encourage conservation?

There have been some quite spectacular reductions in Melbourne’s water consumption in recent years. The latest invoice from my water company proclaims that total water consumed by customers has fallen 36% since 1997.

Most of this gain is undoubtedly due to water restrictions and jaw boning. Pricing doesn’t seem to have been a big influence, even though most economists would suggest that it is one of the most efficient ways to moderate demand.

I just got my water bill for the last three months. Average daily use by my household is 495 litres, or 124 litres per person. That’s not bad compared to the Government’s daily target of 155 litres per person (although admittedly it’s been a pretty wet winter).

What surprises me however is the relatively low profile given to pricing as a mechanism for dampening demand (pun intended). My Consumption Charges only amount to 24.4% of my total bill. The other key items are Parks Charges, Drainage Charges, Service Charges and Sewage Charges. Read the rest of this entry »