July 19, 2014, by Alex Kirby
An anti-coal protest outside the Parliament House in Victoria last year
Image: John Englart (Takver) via Wikimedia Commons
Critics accuse Australia of showing a complete disregard for the science of climate change and its impacts by voting to repeal the country’s carbon tax.
LONDON, 19 July, 2014 – Australia, one of the world’s principal emitters of carbon dioxide, has voted to cancel its carbon tax in what has been described as “the perfect storm of stupidity”.
The decision had cross-party support in the Senate vote, passing by 39 votes to 32, with only the Labor and Green parties voting against repealing the carbon pricing scheme they introduced, and which took effect two years ago.
By fulfilling what the prime minister, Tony Abbott, had called his “pledge in blood” to repeal the tax, Australia has left itself with no legal basis for trying to achieve its international 5% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.
The former climate change minister, Penny Wong, said Abbott had “staked his political career … on fearmongering and scaremongering”. Repealing the tax meant “this nation will have walked away from a credible and efficient response to climate change”.
She said: “I think future generations will look back on these bills and they will be appalled . . . at the short-sighted, opportunistic, selfish politics of those opposite, and Mr Abbott will go down as one of the most short-sighted, selfish and small people ever to occupy the office of prime minister.”
But one backbencher said opposition parties were hypocrites for refusing to accept the will of the voters. Insisting that he had ”an open mind”, he said Brisbane had recently had its coldest day in 113 years.
The agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, said the tax had imposed high costs on families, and questioned whether it was needed. “Look at the weather today, look at the way you are dressed,” he said. “No one thinks it is too hot.”
Roger Jones, a professorial research fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies (VISES) at Australia’s Victoria University, described the repeal of the tax as “the perfect storm of stupidity”.
“It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policy making”
Professor Jones said: “It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policy making, a complete disregard of the science of climate change and its impacts . . . a total failure of governance by government.”
The non-partisan Climate Institute said Australia had taken “a monumentally reckless backward leap”, while the Australian Conservation Foundation said the vote “makes Australia an international embarrassment”.
The government claims that the carbon pricing scheme has been ineffective, although CO2 emissions fell by 0.8% in the first calendar year of its operation – the largest fall in 24 years.
No cap on emissions
It says it will now achieve its 5% emissions reduction target, compared with 2000 levels, by 2020 with its Direct Action policy, which will offer competitive grants over the next four years to companies and organisations that voluntarily reduce emissions. The policy puts no overall cap on emissions.
The Climate Change Authority, which provides expert advice on Australian government climate change mitigation initiatives, and which the government wants to abolish, has said Australia’s “fair share” of international emissions reductions has now increased to between 15% and 19% by 2020.
Scientists in the US say parts of Australia are being slowly parched because of greenhouse gas emissions – which means that the long-term decline in rainfall over south and south-west Australia results from fossil fuel burning and depletion of the ozone layer by human activity.
Australia is 15th in the list of the world’s largest CO2 emitters. It also makes a sizeable contribution to emissions overseas: in 2013, it was the world’s second largest coal exporter. – Climate News Network
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.