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Australian Senate Kills Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme

CANBERRA, Australia, August 14, 2009 (ENS) – The Australian Senate Thursday defeated the Rudd Government’s attempt to limit climate change with a carbon emissions trading scheme and 10 related bills.

Green Party members voted down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme because they said it was too easy on polluters. The Green Party crowed in a statement, “The CPRS bill, which was a prescription for failure in tackling climate change and included $16 billion compensation for polluters, has been rejected by the Senate.”

Senator Bob Brown (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Brown)

Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown said, “The Rudd government’s bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only five percent by 2020 would help lock in dangerous climate change and accelerate the melting of the world’s glaciers.

Brown pointed out that the vote came the day after Pemba Dorjie Sherpa, the world’s fastest climber of Mount Everest, was in Canberra, making a plea to Australia to reverse climate change, which is melting 40 Himalayan glaciers on river headwaters upon which one billion people rely.

Liberals voted against the package because, in the words of Senator Scott Ryan on the Senate floor, “This legislation will cost Australian jobs, it will not achieve its stated goals and it represents a massive power grab and a massive tax grab by a government obsessed with its own spin and with increasing its role in our national life rather than listening to the genuine concerns of the Australian people.”

Senator Ryan Scott (Photo courtesy Parliament of Australia)

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was to start in July of 2011. The bill killed by the Senate requires that more than 1,000 of Australia’s most polluting companies buy permits to emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, about 75 percent of national emissions.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the government will reintroduce the bills in three months. “We will bring these bills back before the end of the year because we on this side understand we have to start the economic transformation we need. We will bring these bills back before the end of the year because, if we do not, this nation goes to Copenhagen with no means to deliver our targets.”

In Copenhagen in December, world government leaders will gather for the annual UN climate change conference. There, they are expected to agree on a greenhouse gas reduction treaty with legally binding targets to pick up when the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012.

In May, the Rudd Government committed to reduce Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions to 25 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 if the world agrees to an ambitious global deal to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million CO2-equivalent or lower by mid-century.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Photo courtesy Office of the PM)

Today, Prime Minister Rudd told a television reporter, “We believe that the country as a whole just wants to get on with the business of acting on climate change. A big part of that is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.”

“Very complex, we’ve worked on this for a year and a half, taken it through all stages very methodically, got to the stage where we got supportive statements from the Business Council of Australia, from the Australian Industry Group, and then on the conservation side, with the major conservation groups as well,” said Rudd. “It’s about as balanced as we’re going to get.”

“But here we are, at 18 months into this Government’s term, and we still have an Opposition which can’t put forward its policy,” complained Rudd. “And why is that relevant? Because they have the numbers in the Senate, they’ve blocked our legislation yesterday, without putting forward a single amendment.”

Australia is one of the world’s largest coal-producing nations, and coal produces more emissions and greenhouse gases than the other fossil fuels.

But the the Business Council of Australia said in a statement, “Unresolved issues in the current legislation include treatment of electricity generation, the coal industry and a number of matters involving emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries.”

With the Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme voted down in the Senate, the country’s largest environmental group is urging the big polluters to stop undermining action on climate change.

“It is time to take the exaggerating, the point-scoring and the finger-pointing out of the climate change debate in Australia,” said Australian Conservation Foundation Executive Director Don Henry.

“Big polluters should stop impeding action on climate change and start preparing for the realities and opportunities of a clean energy economy,” said Henry. “It’s time for the dinosaurs to evolve.”

Wind farm near Albany, Western Australia (Photo by Scott Davis)

ACF will continue to push for bigger cuts in carbon pollution and remains committed to achieving an Australian target of at least 40 percent cuts by 2020 in the context of a global agreement – 15 percent deeper cuts than the Rudd Government’s target.

Henry said the Australian Parliament should “strengthen national emission targets and make the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme flexible enough to respond to new climate science.”

He said Parliament should also strengthen and pass the Renewable Energy Target legislation, one of the 10 related bills linked to the emissions trading scheme.

The government does intend to split the renewable energy bill off from the package and allow the Senate to debate it separately, the “Sydney Morning Herald” reports today.

Only a tiny band of skeptics support no action by Parliament on climate change while more than three quarters of Australians want the Liberals to back the CPRS legislation, a poll conducted for the independent Climate Institute shows.

“Australians are losing patience with their politicians on climate change and the support for Liberals backing the CPRS legislation remains very solid at 78 percent, up one point from May,” said The Climate Institute CEO John Connor.

The Auspoll survey conducted earlier this month showed that 48 percent of voters believed the Federal Parliament was “moving too slowly” on addressing climate change, with frustration highest among women, 52%, and 18-24 years, 60%.

In recognition of this public frustration, labor, welfare, environment and research groups gathered last weekend to launch a National Clean Energy Jobs Campaign. The multi-media and grassroots campaign is supported by The Climate Institute, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Conservation Foundation and the WWF-Australia.

WWF-Australia CEO Greg Bourne said after Thursday’s vote, “It is a travesty that our Parliament cannot deliver the certainty which communities, businesses and other nations are looking for as we move towards a global deal in Copenhagen. Only a global deal will secure a climate safe future and Australia must play its part. The failure of this legislation has left the world in a more vulnerable position.”

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