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|Australia's plans for an emissions
trading system to combat global warming were scuttled Wednesday in
Parliament, handing a defeat to a government that had hoped to set
an example at international climate change talks next week.
The Senate, where Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government does not
hold a majority, rejected his administration's proposal for
Australia to become 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.
The 41-33 vote followed a tumultuous debate in which the
conservative main opposition party at first agreed to support a
version of the government's bill, then dramatically dumped its
leader and switched sides after bitter divisions erupted within the
The new leader, Tony Abbott, said Australia should not adopt an
emissions trading system before the rest of the world.
"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," he told reporters after
Rudd had wanted the legislation passed before he attends next week's
U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen so he could portray
Australia as a world leader on the issue. He discussed the issue
with President Barack Obama this week during a visit to the White
House from which he was still returning Wednesday.
The defeat of the Australian plan could influence the views of some
delegates to the Copenhagen meetings, adding weight to the argument
that developed nations should curb their emissions before poorer
nations are required to tackle theirs, said Frank Jotzo, an
Australian National University expert on international climate
"It's not like the talks will stall because of the lack of an
Australian emissions trading scheme in place," he said. "But if the
legislation had been passed that would have sent a very positive
signal internationally and in particular to developing countries."
Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government would
reintroduce the bill in February to give the opposition a last
chance to overcome its divisions and support the plan.
If the bill is defeated again, Rudd could use that as a reason to
call early elections. Elections are due by late 2010 anyway.
Australia is a small greenhouse gas polluter in global terms, but
one of the worst per capita because it relies heavily for its
electricity on its abundant reserves of coal. As the driest
continent after Antarctica, it is also considered one of the most
vulnerable countries to climate change.
The European Union has a carbon trading system, as do some U.S.
states. Canada and New Zealand are among countries considering or in
the process of implementing them.
Under the government's plan, an annual limit would be placed on the
amount of greenhouse gases allowed to be pumped into the atmosphere
and permits would be issued to regulate that ceiling. The permits
could be bought and sold, setting up a market system that would make
reducing emissions potentially profitable for polluting companies.
Opponents of the legislation say it amounts to a huge new tax on
polluting industries such as power generators, which would put a
crimp on the economy and lead to higher prices for consumers.
Climate Change Minister Sen. Penny Wong accused the opposition
members who voted the bill down 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," Wong said.