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Family First Party

Family First Party: Australian Emissions Trading Plan in ...

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NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA — On the windswept streets of Newcastle, the world’s largest coal port and a hub of Australian heavy industry, people get nervous when asked to give their opinions on climate change.


Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, which pumps billions of dollars into the economy, supplies more than 80 percent of the country’s electricity and keeps tens of thousands of people in their jobs — particularly in and around Newcastle. But the carbon dioxide produced from burning coal is also a major contributor to climate change, a problem the center-left Labor government has vowed to address.

Two years after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd drew worldwide applause for reversing Australia’s longstanding refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the government’s ambitious plan to change the way Australians use energy is facing major obstacles, raising the prospect of an early election with climate change as the central issue.

Introduced with much fanfare last year, the government’s plan aims to create a domestic replica of the emissions trading projects already operating in Europe and elsewhere.

In the simplest terms, the plan would set a cap on how much carbon dioxide could be released into the atmosphere each year and allow companies to buy and sell pollution permits designed to meet that target. It aims to cut Australian emissions by at least 5 percent of 2000 levels by 2020, or by as much as 25 percent overall if other major emitters commit to similar cuts at global climate talks in Copenhagen later this year.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme passed easily through the Labor-controlled House of Representatives this month. But the Senate, which is controlled by conservatives and minor parties, has vowed to defeat the bill.

The government plans to introduce its legislation to the Senate on Monday.

Opponents come from all sides of the ideological spectrum. Conservatives say Australia should not commit itself to any target before the world’s biggest emitters — China and the United States — lay their cards on the table, and a successor to the Kyoto agreement, which expires in 2012, is reached. They contend the plan will drive up the cost of coal and other energy-intensive exports, allowing competitors like Indonesia to undercut Australia on world markets.

With conservatives voting as a coalition against the legislation, Labor needs the support of the pro-environment Greens party and at least two minority senators. But the Greens are also opposed, saying a 25 percent cut in emissions should be Australia’s minimum target, not its maximum.

Steve Fielding, a senator from the conservative Family First party who holds one potentially tie-breaking vote, has said he has doubts about the human links to climate change.

But Senator Christine Milne, the deputy leader of the Greens party, said, “I don’t think there is any doubt that the legislation will not be passed.” The party has been frozen out of the negotiations for its refusal to budge on the targets.

Conservatives say they will either defeat the bill outright, or stage a filibuster — an extremely rare event in Australian politics — to buy more negotiating time. If it is voted down, the government has said it will reintroduce the climate laws later this year.

Under the Australian Constitution, the government can call simultaneous elections in both the upper and lower house if the Senate rejects the same bill twice, with a three-month gap between votes.

Mr. Rudd is not due to face re-election until next year, but he could opt for a so-called double dissolution election to clarify his mandate.

A defeat in the Senate would be a setback for Mr. Rudd, a former diplomat and foreign policy wonk who has been working to raise Australia’s profile on the world stage. Some observers believe Mr. Rudd hoped to present Australia’s emissions trading proposal to climate negotiators at Copenhagen as a model for balancing the concerns of heavy industry and the environment.

But allowing the government to force an early election in both houses could backfire on the conservatives, which lost ground on the issue under the previous government of John Howard, a longtime climate change skeptic.

“I don’t think they want to face the people on an election that is fought on climate change,” said Michael Fullilove, director of the Global Issues Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. “The last election was fought partly on climate change, and they lost that election.”

Meanwhile, among the smokestacks and coal loaders of Newcastle, a two-hour drive north of Sydney, some residents said they worried about climate change but were wary of speaking publicly for fear of backlash from their employers.

One man, a supervisor at an aluminum plant who did not want to be identified, said that climate change was a threat but that Australia — which produces less than 2 percent of the world’s emissions — should not take drastic steps without knowing what the rest of the world would do.

Chris Beverley, a 52-year-old who works as a security guard at a power station and describes himself as a “greenie vegetarian,” said he supported the government’s plan and did not care if it cost him his job.

But, he added: “Nobody thinks like me. They’re all worried about climate change, but at the same time they want. to pay the mortgage, and they want to stay in work.”




Original source: The New York Times - June 21, 2009

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