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Carbon price

Agencies drive energy efficiency

THE Queensland Synod is looking for better and smarter ways of reducing its carbon emissions.

With the recent introduction of the carbon tax and two pieces of federal legislation, the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act and the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act, UnitingCare Queensland and Wesley Mission Brisbane have been obliged to seek ways to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiencies.

Yet, as Colleen Geyer, Director of Mission, UnitingCare Queensland and Chair of the UnitingCare Queensland Sustainability Coordination Team, makes clear, this is a welcome opportunity rather than a matter of compliance.

"We are committed to being environmentally sustainable not because we have to be but because it's who we are."

She notes that one of the five objectives of the joint UnitingCare Queensland strategic plan is "to be financially sustainable and environmentally responsible" with a long-term commitment "to developing, implementing and measuring the outcomes of our environmental practices."

"The Uniting Church has made a number of statements on the environment over the years, and these are important foundations for us in the work we do in this area."

Due to the energy-hungry services of hospitals and aged-care facilities, UnitingCare Queensland and Wesley Mission Brisbane account for over 90 per cent of the energy consumed by the Queensland Synod.

It is here that the search for energy efficiencies will be concentrated.

Group Manager, Audit and Risk, UnitingCare Queensland, Garry Pridham, said, "Due to the large electricity consumption in these facilities, the Queensland Synod is technically required to be reported to the Clean Energy Regulator, but as it is not a large producer of emissions it will not be 'caught' by the carbon tax regime and will not have to pay carbon tax.

"However, as we are a large consumer of electricity we will face estimated price increases of around 10 per cent if, as predicted, energy producers pass on their carbon tax costs to consumers.

"This would have a large impact on our services if we take no action."

UnitingCare Queensland has established a Sustainability Coordination Team to develop a group-wide alignment of each of the service group's sustainability plans and to identify opportunities for group-wide initiatives.

"Our aim is to reduce our electricity usage without affecting our services – UnitingCare Queensland's priority is to be a leading organisation in person centred care while being environmentally responsible," Mr Pridham said.

Work is underway to measure current energy consumption, with the aim of identifying opportunities for improving energy efficiency, reducing consumption, and measuring future reductions.

This major initiative is being coordinated by UnitingCare Queensland on behalf of the Synod, with a working party consisting of members from each UnitingCare service group and Synod agency.

Faith responses to the carbon price

On the introduction of carbon pricing by the Australian Government on 1 July 2012, Journey asked four eco-theological thinkers for their views.

Rev Dr Clive W Ayre, Green Church Advocate

The term "carbon tax" in popular debate is highly misleading, even mischievous, and suggests that this is primarily about money.

Thus, the opinion poll question "Do you expect to be better or worse off after 1 July?" completely misses the point.

This is about protecting the environment for the future, and the debate needs to be focussed around that issue.

There is little doubt that the carbon price will be blamed for unrelated price rises, but there is no painless way to rectify the problem.

There will be a cost whatever method is used, and the longer we leave it the higher the cost will be for all of us.

We all share in creating the pollution, but it is reasonable that the big polluters should be given the greater encouragement to change their methods.

There may be a better way to achieve the same goal, but this at least is a start.

Faith itself involves a cost; it has a cross at its heart, and we can't expect to avoid that in responding to the divine call to care for creation.

A faith approach to issues such as this is diametrically opposed to the "me first" approach of the popular debate.

The imperative of Christian mission in this context calls us to encourage the community at large to value a healthy and sustainable environment for the future in preference to all other goals, whatever their legitimacy.

Jason John, Mid North Coast Presbytery ecoministry

The biggest disappointment regarding the new carbon fee is that the Australian Government has been forced to sell it to us on the basis that it won't cost us anything.

We cannot continue under the illusion that we can renew God's creation without sacrifice.

We must ensure that it is not the poor, future generations, and God's other creatures who are doing all the paying, whilst a few of us reap the benefits.

Greatly increasing the tax on cigarettes encouraged some people to break their addictions, but clearly not all of us.

We will need more than this one initiative to help us break our addiction to non-renewables.

Because we encounter again and again in worship and prayer the one who reminds us that one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, we as Christians should be at the forefront of the call for repentence, and the kind of sacrificial attitude required as we serve and protect God's garden planet.

Rev Dr Noel Preston AM, adjunct Professor in the Griffith University Key Centre for Ethics, Justice, Law and Governance

There is a challenge in all this to rethink our theology in this context. In past generations the Christian focus has been on human welfare not that of the total natural environment of which we are part.

There is also a major social justice issue in what confronts us because the brunt of the dangerous consequences of failing to address climate change adequately will be borne by the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.

I am also challenged by the assessment of those who forecast that to reduce dangerous greenhouse gases to liveable levels across the globe by 2050, levels of greenhouse gasses in Earth's atmosphere need to be reduced by 60% per cent.

Moreover, if this matter is to be approached with fairness and social equity by the international community it is estimated that Australia's levels must drop by 90% per cent by that date! After all, as a society, per capita we have led the way in harmful emissions.

Christians, as individuals, as the church and as voters, cannot avoid this social justice challenge. It derives from the gospel mandate to love our neighbour.

Effective action will require economic adjustments including a price on carbon. Obviously the precise public policies to address this need to be politically debated. People of faith must engage that debate.

From the viewpoint of Christian social ethics in our nation, I would say that it cannot be acceptable

to argue in this debate that we should not lead the way globally in making changes because our actions will do little to make a difference.

That would not only abrogate our social responsibility (as a relatively rich nation) to do the right thing, but would be a self-interested proposition that demeans our nation.

Miriam Pepper, Uniting Earthweb Group

The Australian Government argues that the carbon pricing mechanism is the most efficient way to reduce carbon pollution.

However, experiences internationally with such mechanisms suggest that they do little to drive a significant shift away from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the mining of coal and gas in Australia is expanding at an alarming rate – with detrimental impacts on local communities and ecologies, farming land and the climate.

A halt to this expansion, concerted investment into energy efficiency and renewable energy, and ultimately an economic model that pursues sufficiency rather than endless growth are needed for the benefit of all.