Environmentalists: Fuel emission reduction policy well behind world's best practice

Policy Plans released by Julia Gillard and her Climate Change Minister Penny Wong for mandatory fuel efficiency standards and a $2000 rebate for trading in pre-1995 cars for new fuel efficient vehicles, were cautiously welcomed by environmentalists while being criticised for not going far enough and being funded by cuts to other climate change action programs such as Carbon Capture and Storage and solar energy. "Under this plan, Australia's fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles will be about a quarter of a century behind China's when they are eventually law. We must make our cars cleaner quicker." said Don Henry, Australian Conservation Foundation executive director.

Australian emission standards are currently voluntary. Under the envisaged mandatory standards emissions from light vehicles would reduce by 14 per cent by 2014 and 30 per cent by 2024 based upon 2008 emission levels. While Government modelling suggests a significant fuel saving - a typical motorist could save around $600 per year on fuel costs - the estimated amount saved could prove elusive due to the threat of peak oil to affect major increases in petrol prices in the next decade. The government has not released petrol price modelling to check their figures.

The car industry has welcomed the $394 million plan to give motorists a rebate on trade-ins between January 2011 and the end of 2014.

The Australian Conservation Foundation questioned why the 30 per cent emission reduction would not be introduced until 2024 when many countries already have mandatory fuel emission requirements. "Australians want healthier cities and more efficient cars, but the standards announced today are weaker than European standards and certainly not world's best practice," said Don Henry. "Europe, the United States, Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea have all had mandatory fuel efficiency standards for new cars for years. China's new car fleet was already more efficient than Australia's in 2002."

Greens Climate Change spokeperson Senator Christine Milne welcomed the initiative but criticised the Government for cutting back renewable energy programs to fund it, and the lack of a carbon price mechanism being set to fund such initiatives. "Prime Minister Gillard's refusal to legislate for a carbon tax means that she does not have a source of funding for climate initiatives and it is completely wrong to take money out of Australia's renewable energy future to pay to take clunkers off the road." she said.

"The Greens would take the money from coal via a carbon tax, or from fuel excise, whereas the Prime Minister's rhetoric on climate change is becoming even more hollow as she prepares to attack the solar industry one again. Prime Minister Gillard seems to think that nobody cares if only two of the 52 applications in the solar flagship program are funded, but she will find that Australians do care about the solar industry and will not look kindly on this daylight robbery from the solar sector." said Senator Milne.