After the Australian parliament rejected a proposal to establish a greenhouse gas emissions trading system, the government said it will re-introduce it. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
The emission trading scheme (ETS) was the government’s key policy on climate change. It was defeated in the Senate by 41-33 votes.
The government only needed seven opposition votes to pass the laws.
Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, had proposed a carbon trading scheme similar to that in Europe aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal would have made Australia one of the first countries to install a so-called cap-and-trade system to slash the amount of heat-trapping pollution that industries pump into the air.
It was the second time the bill was rejected, which leaves Rudd with nothing to take to the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen next week.
Although it also provides Rudd a potential trigger for an early election, he is unlikely to do so before 2010, when polls are due anyway.
No early election
Starting in July 2011, the emissions trading scheme would have been the biggest outside Europe. It would have covered 75 percent of Australian emissions.
On Wednesday, Julia Gillard, the acting Australian prime minister, said the carbon trading bills will be re-introduced in February, in order to give the opposition Liberal Party one more chance to support the scheme.
She added that the government was “determined to deliver real action on climate change” through the scheme.
“Today the climate change extremists and deniers … have stopped this nation taking action on climate change,” she told reporters, adding that the government was not looking at an early election.
“This nation is one of the hottest and driest continents on Earth. We are going to be hit particularly hard and early by climate change,” Gillard added.
Though the Liberal Party agreed to back the carbon laws last week, climate change sceptics forced a leadership and policy change on Tuesday.
The new opposition leader, Tony Abbott, said Australia should not adopt an emissions trading system before the rest of the world.
The US first
After the vote, he told reporters : “I’m very pleased that the Senate has delivered a big win to the people of Australia who have been saved from a massive new tax that would have been foisted upon them without proper scrutiny.”
“The right time, if ever, to have an ETS is if and when it becomes part of the international trading system and that is not going to happen prior to its adoption in America.”
Though in global terms Australia is a small greenhouse gas polluter, it is one of the worst per capita because it relies heavily for its electricity on its abundant reserves of coal. It also makes Australia the world’s largest exporter of the polluting fuel.
Because it is the driest continent after Antarctica, Australia is also considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.
The opposition members who voted the bill down have been accused by the country’s climate change minister, Penny Wong, of being climate change deniers out of step with the world.
“This is about doing our bit as part of a global agreement, this is about responding to what is a global challenge,” she told the Senate.
“You have to make polluters pay. If you do not make polluters pay you will not tackle climate change.”