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AFTER only four meetings of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, and well before most industry groups could finishing dusting off their talking points from the 2009 fear campaign against the ill-fated Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Labor, the Greens and key independents yesterday announced their agreement on the “broad architecture” for an Australian carbon pricing mechanism. Australia looks set, finally, to establish that most elusive of prizes in Australian climate politics: a carbon price. But a fundamental question remains: will the price be right?

The striking thing about the Australian climate debate is that a carbon price itself has become the beginning and end of climate policy. It’s striking because a carbon price is merely a tool, a way of getting from “a” to “b.” Its function is to send a market signal about which type of power plants to invest in, which forms of transport to take and how best to use our land. But just what sort of signal do we want our carbon price to send? What do we want “b” to look like?…

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