On Thursday, the newly installed Australian Senate voted to repeal Australia’s carbon pricing scheme, fulfilling an election promise made by the country’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Unfortunately, no new legislation has yet been presented to the nation’s parliament to replace the scheme, leaving one of the world’s biggest per capita carbon polluters without an official emissions reduction policy. In response Opposition Leader Bill Shorten noted, “Today, Tony Abbott has made Australia the first country in the world to reverse action on climate change.”
The carbon tax, as it is also known, has been deeply divisive in Australian politics. After years of debate, it only came into effect two years ago under the administration of the previous Labor government. The scheme initially set a tax for large industrial carbon emitters of AU $23 (US $21.56) per metric ton of carbon dioxide released. The price had recently risen to AU $25 per metric ton, but was due to switch to the lower, floating international price next year.
The Abbott government has argued that the carbon pricing scheme has been ineffective, but the country’s emissions fell by 0.8 percent in the first calendar year after its implementation, the biggest fall recorded in 24 years. Yesterday’s decision was the third attempt by the government to pass the repeal in the Upper House since taking office last September, and the 39 to 32 vote was only made possible by a recent shift in the balance of power due to an influx of newly elected senators. The Abbott government now intends to present its own policy to parliament. Direct Action, as the policy is known, proposes to offer AU $2.5 billion ($2.34 billion) in competitive grants to greenhouse gas emitters over four years, but the policy places no cap on emissions and would be completely voluntary.
The government itself admits it has not modeled the Direct Action policy, with Tony Abbott stating they would prefer to just “have a crack” at it to see if it works. The Direct Action model has also already been criticized by some unexpected sources, with the Australian Treasury stating in 2010 that a carbon pricing policy was, “the only realistic way of achieving the deep cuts in emissions that are required … Moreover, many direct action measures cannot be scaled up, and, for those that can, the cost per tonne of abatement would rise rapidly, imposing further costs on taxpayers and consumers.” Given that Australia’s five percent emissions reduction target is likely to increase after next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the cost of Direct Action could rise dramatically.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Labor Party and the Greens have already declared they will not support legislation to implement Direct Action when it is proposed to parliament. They prefer to stick with a carbon pricing model and emissions trading scheme instead. The not-yet-presented policy is therefore already on course for a legislative minefield, which will leave the country without any legal framework or plan for achieving its agreed emissions reduction target by 2020.
Photos by VanderWolf Images via Shutterstock; Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade via Wikipedia Commons