CANBERRA, Australia, July 17, 2014 (ENS) – Australia’s Senate has voted to repeal the price on emissions of the climate-warming gas carbon dioxide, a levy on the biggest polluters passed by the previous Labor government.

power plant

The Yallourn Power Station burns brown coal to provide eight percent of Australia’s power. (Photo by Philip Morgan)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose Liberal-National coalition unseated Labor in last year’s election, succeeded in achieving the repeal, a central goal of his government.

The Senate voted 39 to 32 on Thursday to repeal the price on carbon after Abbott persuaded several independent senators to back the move, making Australia’s government the world’s first to backtrack on such a climate-change law.

Introduced in July 2012 by the Labor government of Julia Gillard, and called a “tax” by its critics, including Abbott, the price on carbon emissions penalized Australia’s 348 highest polluters with a fee of A$23 (US$22.60) for every metric tonne of carbon dioxide they emitted.

A coal-producing country that burns coal for most of its power supply, Australia emits more carbon dioxide per capita than any other developed country.

But critics, including Prime Minister Abbott, said that the price on carbon put people out of work and forced increased energy prices. He called it “useless and destructive.”

After the Senate vote today, Abbott told reporters that people will notice a significant difference when they get their next quarterly power bill. The annual cost reduction will amount to A$550, he promised.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, left, meets with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN Headquarters, June 11, 2014. Ban has dedicated his administration to fighting climate change (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, left, meets with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN Headquarters, June 11, 2014. Ban has dedicated his administration to fighting climate change. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

“People … faced a pretty bleak future under the carbon tax,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who heads the Labor Party, said in a statement today, that his party will include a policy to introduce a carbon emissions trading scheme in its campaign for the 2016 election.

In the climate debate in Parliament on Monday, Shorten said, “There is no doubt our earth is warming and our seas rising – or that humankind is the cause.”

Giving statistics on greenhouse gas emissions that amount to two trillion tonnes “at a rate many times faster than the previous 800,000 years,” Shorten pointed out that each of the last three decades has been warmer on average than any other in modern times and 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st Century.”

“Sea levels have risen by about 20cm on average over the past century – and the rate of increase has been much greater in recent decades,” he said. “There is no evidence to refute any of this – or any genuine scientific counterargument in the climate change debate.”

“This is not ‘absolute crap,’ Prime Minister. It is the inescapable truth,” the Opposition Leader said.

“And if we do not act, the consequences will be severe. It is predicted we will endure more droughts, more bushfires and more floods, more storms – more extremes. Indeed we are already seeing more extreme weather events, influenced by the warming experienced thus far. The damage to our coasts, our farmland, our forests and our animal life will be irretrievable – and irreversible.”

rally

The Bust the Budget Melbourne march and rally featured a wide range of issues and people and numbered some 20,000 people, July 6, 2014 (Photo by Takver)

Environmental groups were outraged and warned that the senators who approved the measure would have to answer to future generations.

“The Abbott Government and crossbench Senators who voted today to get rid of the carbon price have left Australia with no comprehensive scheme to cut the pollution that is causing global warming,” Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, the country’s largest environmental group.

“This government and these Senators know what they are doing. They will have to explain this action to their children and grandchildren,” said O’Shanassy.

“As the world steps up its efforts, Australia finds itself with no working policy to cut pollution,” she said. “This backwards step makes Australia an international embarrassment.”

Since the carbon price was introduced on July 1, 2012, pollution from electricity has dropped by 10 percent, O’Shanassy pointed out. Renewable energy has increased by 37 percent in the last year alone and the economy continues to grow at an above average rate, she said.

“The Abbott Government and crossbench Senators who voted today to repeal the carbon price have left Australia without the necessary tools to meet our paltry international obligation to cut pollution by five percent by 2020, let alone to reduce it to the levels scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous climate change,” she said.

“The government can vote to get rid of the carbon price, but it can’t vote away global warming. That takes real action, something we haven’t yet seen from the Abbott government,” said O’Shanassy.

“Australians are already living with climate change – record heatwaves, worse droughts, more extreme weather.  It is reckless to get rid of a policy that is working and wilfully expose Australians to worse in future.

Environmentalists accused the government of listening to big polluters rather than to the advice of scientists, economists, doctors and firefighters.

Now, Prime Minister Abbott said today, he will remove the tax on mining.

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