Anger over ‘pay to pollute’ proposal for Great Barrier Reef
The proposed price mechanism for averting pollution in the Great Barrier Reef does not have the full support of experts in the area, as Brit-Helen Johansen reports.
The Great Barrier Reef is world heritage listed and is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. The reef has already suffered damage because of pollution and Sean Hoobin (SH), policy manager, reef water quality for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), says the proposal will cement a policy that allows polluting an already struggling reef.
SH: Our major concern with the proposal is that the reef is currently under significant stress. It’s got massive amounts of farm pollution running off catchments, the recent floods dumped a whole lot of sediments and chemicals onto the reef, which resulted in a massive spike in dugong and turtle deaths, so it seems a bad time to cement a policy where they’re going to be allowing the dumping of pollution in the reef. The government is actually funding a program to try and reduce farm pollution to the tune of 200 million called Reef Rescue, and so on one hand the government is funding measures to reduce pollution and on the other hand they’re allowing pollution to happen in the reef.
Brit-Helen Johansen (BHJ): But if companies are already able to get approvals to dump material wouldn’t this added fee just become an incentive for companies to not use this option.
SH: Yes, under a certain arrangement a price on pollution can be a disincentive to pollute. The first question has to be asked is, can the environment deal with the pollution? If companies can be allowed to pollute and pay a nominal fee, that might not actually protect the environment nor act as a disincentive. We believe that in this instance, a price on pollution is not an appropriate mechanism.
The Wire contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority but was unable to get an interview, but received a written statement where the General Manager, Andrew Skeat, stated that: All permit proposals are subject to a rigorous environmental process, including any impacts on seagrass, coral and marine animals. The only change is that there would now be a charge for the disposal of dredged material which would contribute to the long-term sustainable management of the Reef.
Frank Stilwell, Professor of Political Economy at The University of Sydney, says there are problems putting a price on pollution.
FS: The problem with charging for dumped waste and other sources of pollution is that though it does create a disincentive for the polluters to carry on with that activity, it doesn’t actually deem it to be illegal or indeed inappropriate. It just means that it has become something that has to be paid for. By making these activities illegal, it sends a clearer ethical signal about what is acceptable and what’s unacceptable in the form of economic and social behaviours.
He says what is needed is a more fundamental change.
FS: Ultimately we need to have business operating on economic principles that are also compatible with ecological principles. It seems to me that just fiddling with the price mechanism isn’t going to take us to that more fundamental revolution in the way in which we relate to the environment.