After a thwarted attempt last week, the Australian senate has repealed a levy on climate polluters
By Ed King
Australia’s senate has voted to ditch the country’s carbon tax, leaving it without a clear strategy to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill to repeal the key climate law was passed by 39 votes to 32, amid angry scenes in the upper chamber of parliament.
The removal of the tax, which priced carbon at $21.50 per tonne, isolates Australia at a time when global moves to address climate change are accelerating.
Countries are currently in advanced stages of talks at the UN to agree a deal to curb emissions and limit warming to below 2C above pre industrial levels.
US president Barack Obama and senior EU leaders are known to have privately warned the Australian government not to scrap its flagship green programme.
EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the European Union regretted the repeal of the tax just as new pricing initiatives are emerging around the world.
“The EU is convinced that pricing carbon is not only the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, but also THE tool to make the economic paradigm shift the world needs. This is why the EU will continue to work towards global carbon pricing with all international partners,” she said.
“With today’s repeal of the Carbon Pricing Mechanism, the discussions to link the Australian system and Europe’s carbon market will evidently be discontinued.”
John Connor from the Australian Climate Institute NGO called the repeal a “historic act of irresponsibility and recklessness”.
“Today we lose a credible framework of limiting pollution that was a firm foundation for a fair dinkum Australian contribution to global climate efforts,” he said.
UK peer Bryony Worthington called on the rest of the world to “apply a tax on coal imports” until an “effective” climate policy is introduced.
Australia is currently committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 5-25% on 2005 levels by 2020, a target it says could increase in the event of a UN climate treaty.
The coalition says its AU$2.55 billion ‘Direct Action Plan’, comprised of incentives to help polluters clean up their act will help achieve that goal.
“What’s gone today is not a policy to reduce emissions. What’s gone today is the world’s biggest carbon tax,” said prime minister Tony Abbott, who had signed a ‘pledge in blood’ to remove it.
Critics say that while the DAP will save the average family A$550 in electricity bills, in the long term it will cost more to lower carbon pollution.
Climate scientists say the country is also likely to expect more extreme weather events as the plant warms, including prolonged periods of drought and more wildfires.
In the first of many attacks on Abbott after the vote, opposition leader Bill Shorten accused him of embarrassing the country on the world stage.
“Today Tony Abbott has made Australia the first country in the world to reverse action on climate change,” he said.
Greens MP Adam Bandt linked the repeal to previous battles over asbestos and tobacco.
“We knew what we were doing was harmful but went ahead and did it anyway,” he said.
WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the move ensured polluting would now be “free”.
“This will see carbon pollution go up, not down,” he said.
“Without an effective mechanism to cut carbon pollution, Australia is unlikely to meet its international commitments to cut pollution by 5-25% by 2020 and tackle global warming.”