Is the end nigh for the Aussie carbon tax?

The Angry Summer (image: Australian Climate Commission)

There’s been much coverage in the Australian media this week about how our new old Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is going to ‘scrap’ the carbon tax.

In the ongoing merry-go-round that seems to be the leadership of the Australian Labor Party these days (it was Rudd, then it was Gillard, now it’s Rudd again), Rudd is seeking to differentiate himself from the policies put in place by his predecessor.

Kevin Rudd (wikimedia commons)

So when he announced this week that he was bringing forward the change from a carbon tax to an Emissions Trading Scheme a year earlier, suddenly the mainstream media decided he was getting rid of the tax.

Umm, not quite. As all of you who went straight to the Australian Parliament website to read the legislation will know (what do you mean you didn’t read the legislation?!?) the original carbon tax was an interim measure that was going to transition to the ETS in 2015 anyway.

The original plan was that Australia was going to run their own ETS market, but the Gillard government announced in August 2012 that the Australian ETS would link with the European ETS in 2015. Given that we all share the same atmosphere and are feeling the effects of our collective carbon emissions over the centuries, this made sense.

So when the new Rudd government announced this week that they’re going to transition to an ETS in 2014, ‘sped up’ in the words of Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action rather than ‘scrapped’, is more accurate.

Obviously, like most climate policy, this decision is not perfect. The current price of carbon in Australia is $23/tonne which was a fixed price from 2012 – 2015 when the ETS market mechanism would have replaced the carbon tax. By bringing the transition forward by a year, Rudd will be linking the Australian carbon price into all of the issues the EU carbon market is having, most of which are related to the fact that the EU handed out far too many free pollution allowances when the market was created and the price of carbon has never recovered.

Whether this is an attempt by Rudd to appease businesses and industry in the lead up to this year’s federal election by still keeping a price on carbon, but knowingly switching it to a market based system with a much lower price won’t be known until after the election.

 However, given the Angry Summer that Australia baked through this year, it’s unlikely that removing carbon pricing will be politically palatable with the ever increasing awareness of what extremes a changed climate will bring.

Calgary - Harper's constituents going under water (Bandit Queen, flickr)

As Stephen Harper will hopefully discover in Canada over the next few years, when your constituents have to keep cleaning up from 1-in-100 year freak events every year or second year, denying the reality of climate change becomes increasingly difficult.

Even the Australian opposition leader Tony Abbot, who, fittingly for a reactionary Christian Right leader seems to not believe in climate change, has to present some kind of policy around climate action in Australia.

Abbott was roundly criticised for his response to the ETS announcement where he said carbon markets were a ‘so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one’ which makes me think he doesn’t believe in online banking either and demands to be paid in coins so he can ‘see it’.

Shenanigans of Australian politics aside, there’s a lesson to be learned here for Canadian politicians if they wish to heed it. Climate change cannot be ignored and denied away, and as the laundry list of extreme weather disasters keeps growing, and the number of people being bailed out from the latest ‘bizzare’ storm increases, so too will the calls for action.

Canada can either choose to keep going on our ‘Energy Superpower’ delusion where we mine, frack and ship as many fossil fuels as fast as possible until reality is staring us in the face, or we can get smarter now. We can start developing the policies and industries that will allow us to become innovators and leaders in the post-carbon economy. Because it’s not a question of if we stop burning carbon, it’s just a question of when. 

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