Australian emissions trading scheme bites the dust, for now

As expected, Australia’s emissions trading scheme, or CPRS (carbon pollution reduction scheme) was voted down in the Senate, despite polls showing the measures were supported by the majority of voters. This comes as no surprise to observers, and has seen bitter accusations of cynical politicking levelled by all parties.

The government’s insistence on a showdown vote, even though it was clear it would lose, is seen as an attempt to use ‘wedge politics’ against the conservative opposition, rating poorly in the polls. The defeat has been talked about as a ‘double dissolution’ trigger: if a bill approved by the House of Representatives, where the governing Labor party has a clear majority, is twice rejected in the Senate, this provides the government of the day with a means to dissolve both houses of parliament – including the entire Senate, which has terms twice as long as the lower house.

The bill had a great deal of significance in Australia, where climate change policy was one of the most divisive issues during the 13-year conservative coalition government which ended in 2007.

As the FT’s Peter Smith writes:

The previous Liberal/National party coalition government, which had failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change, had been voted out of office partly on the grounds it had not been more proactive on global warming issues.

Although it’s far from having the significance of the Waxman-Markey legislation in the US, the bill’s passing would have had some symbolic importance overseas. Although Australia only accounts for about 2 per cent of world GDP, it’s resource-heavy industries make it one of the biggest carbon emitters, on a per capita basis. It is also has a geographical and to some extent cultural proximity to some of the biggest emerging markets that could have the most impact on the emissions trajectory over the course of the century.

One of the complaints levelled against the bill was that it should not be decided before the rest of the world made commitments at the UN meeting in Copenhagen in December. But as one of the most difficult aspects of negotiations leading up to Copenhagen will be the reconciling of demands from the developing world that wealthier countries make stringent commitments to emissions reductions before expecting poorer countries to bear the costs. A wealthy, carbon-intensive economy showing willingness to adopt a cap-and-trade scheme might have sent a positive signal on the developed world’s willingness to move – both to China and to the US.

Related links:

Wong ‘stubborn’ over ETS: Turnbull (The Australian, 13/08/09)
Coalition stance ‘puts Australia at risk’ (ABC, 13/08/09)
In climate change talks between China and the west, nothing is simple (FT Energy Source, 02/06/09)

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