Good law drives effective change

Sensible and effective legislative and regulatory regimes are the cornerstones of functioning societies, and the importance of ensuring such regimes are fair, reasonable and well-targeted is vital to maintaining a functioning democracy.

There is probably no better illustration of this than Australia’s enviable record on greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia has managed to successfully contain CO2 emissions, and without resorting to the carbon taxes and trading schemes which are so controversial and divisive. That reduction has been achieved by social reform and sensible legislative regimes, showing just how valuable good law for the public good can be.

Australia is responsible for around 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – small beer for the world’s 12th largest economy, an industrialised economy at that, and more challenged by the tyranny of distance than most. Our secret is an environmentally sustainable population, which was not easy to achieve and most certainly did not come cheap.

That sustainable population is the result of sensible and effective regulation. In Australia, women were empowered early – thanks to the courageous struggles of the suffragettes – being able cast a vote, and accept one, by 1902, such empowerment meaning women were not limited to the role of simply having (and caring for) many children.

Further, Australia has a strong social security system which provides for the elderly and the infirm, meaning that people do not need to have large families to support them in their old age. This system has cost trillions of dollars in real terms in its 100-plus year existence, and combined with the empowerment of women, it results in a population which is not so large as to threaten the Earth’s future.

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Both of these factors are the result of good law enacted for the public good, and the consequences of failing to legislate intelligently are there for all to see. That the two largest CO2 emitters on our planet – China and the United States – also have wildly unsustainable populations, is no coincidence, and is in part the result of failing to govern for the greater good.

Naturally large emitters such as China and the US will be unable to create viable social security systems overnight, and in any event would not spend the money (although empowering women should not be beyond them). What is clear is that sensible government policy can be a powerful weapon against climate change.

If, for example, planning laws mandated that every new house had to have a certain amount of solar power generating capacity, solar panels would soon be ubiquitous. Demand would bring prices down — making retro-fitting to existing houses attractive — and unlike carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes, a definite and measurable reduction in CO2 emissions would result.

Good law can also free up new technologies. For example, Earth Friendly Concrete (EFC) currently being produced in Australia by a company called Wagners. This concrete uses chemically activated waste slag from steel smelters and waste fly ash from coal-fired power stations, rather than cement, as a binding agent.

That is important, because cement production accounts for 8% of the entire world’s CO2 emissions (or about five times Australia’s total emissions). The release of this product into the market was slowed by lengthy and archaic approval processes; what more might be achieved if those processes are reformed to facilitate innovation?

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