Australian Government Gives Up on Climate Emissions Cap and Trade

CANBERRA, Australia, May 5, 2010 (ENS) – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has kicked government action on global warming to the curb, with the announcement last week that the government’s carbon pollution reduction scheme, CPRS, will be delayed until the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012.

The CPRS would have established an emissions cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases emitted by human activities on the arid continent.

The CPRS was due to start in the middle of 2011, and retreat indicates that Prime Minister Rudd has failed to get legislative support for what he once called “the great moral and economic challenge of our time.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Photo by Stephen Jones ALP)

“We have presented this Bill to the Parliament on a number of occasions. We’ve not been able to get the Opposition or the Greens to support it and we have to deal with those political realities,” said Penny Wong, minister for climate change, energy efficiency and water.

“We remain committed to action on climate change. Action on climate change is the right thing to do,” she said.

Australia is the most arid continent on Earth and perpetually struggles with water scarcity problems that will only worsen as the planetary temperature rises. About two-thirds of Australia receives less than 20 inches of rain a year, and only 10 percent of the continent receives more than 40 inches.

Wong said Australia will now wait for the rest of the world to address climate change, and that depends on negotiations on an agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that will take over when the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. Prime Minister Rudd ratified the protocol immediately after assuming office on December 3, 2007.

When the Kyoto Protocol finishes at the end of 2012, Wong said, “all the countries of the world will have had to resolve what happens after Kyoto, what the new climate change arrangement is internationally.”

“Australia will have to sign up to its targets under that new arrangement,” she said.

Rudd’s Labor government has a majority in the House, but in the Senate needed the support of senators from the Greens, Liberals, Nationals or Independents. This support was not forthcoming.

Australia’s longest river, the Murray, shrunken by drought, April 3, 2010. (Photo by Vladka Martinek)

Liberal Joe Hockey, the party’s shadow treasurer said, “The CPRS was always about imposing a great big new tax rather than a meaningful attempt to reduce carbon emissions. It seems the real reason behind the delay is to improve the budget bottom line.”

Now Labor Party strategists are taking aim at the Greens for failing to help Labor get the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme passed in the Senate.

Senator Bob Brown, the Australian Greens leader, said negotiating with his colleagues on a levy on carbon polluters is now the Prime Minister’s best option to show Australians he is serious about climate change.

Results of a new poll by Galaxy Research show that the majority of Australians want the government to negotiate with the Greens in the Senate for climate action.

Results of the national telephone poll of 1,100 respondents taken in April show that 72 percent of Australians were in favor of the government working with the Greens, independents and other senators to introduce a levy that will ensure the biggest polluters pay for climate pollution.

Only 20 percent were opposed to the government negotiating with the Greens.

The levy is an option proposed in 2008 by economist Ross Garnaut, who has advised Labor on the issue of climate emissions.

“By getting behind the Greens’ proposal, the Prime Minister will show he is able to tackle climate change,” Senator Brown said.

Summer dust storm in drought-stricken New South Wales, February 2009. (Photo by Wayne)

Australian Greens Deputy Leader Senator Christine Milne, called on Minister Wong to reopen negotiations towards the levy proposal, which stalled last month.

“Clearly Australians want climate action fast, and they would back the government in working with the Greens to get a levy on polluters in place before the election,” said Senator Brown.

The next Australian election must be held on or before April 16, 2011.

A coalition of Australian social, union, environmental and independent research organizations working to promote solutions to the climate crisis, warns that stalling on climate change is costing Australia both jobs and investment capital.

The Southern Cross Climate Coalition expressed deep disappointment about the shelving of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, saying Australian businesses, jobs and investors already have had a decade of delay in effective climate policy.

“Meanwhile, clean energy industries and jobs have been lost to competitors in China, South Korea, and Europe where ambitious clean energy policies are being implemented,” the coalition said in a statement.

Since October 2009 more than 150 new measures have been announced globally to reduce climate pollution and 32 countries now have emissions trading schemes.

Globally, around US$200 billion is expected to be invested in clean energy solutions in 2010, the coalition points out.

The coalition says “all political parties and many business leaders are responsible for jeopardizing efforts to make the transition to a clean energy economy and growing Australian clean-energy jobs, investment and industries.”

The coalition wants all political parties to rethink their policies to achieve reductions in Australia’s rising climate pollution within the life of the next government – before 2013 – and establish credible plans to achieve at least the 25 percent reduction target by 2020.

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