Australia slaps carbon tax on big polluters

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The Independent Online

Australia, one of the worst per capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world, stepped up its fight against climate change yesterday with plans to tax its biggest polluters.

Five hundred companies will face a carbon tax of A$23 (£15.40) per tonne from July next year. That figure will rise by 2.5 per cent a year, before transitioning to the largest emissions trading scheme outside Europe in 2015.

The Government, which is aiming to cut pollution by at least 5 per cent below year-2000 levels by 2020, said the carbon price will not apply to emissions from agriculture or light road vehicles. "It's time to get on with this, we are going to get this done," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

The country is both a leading international exporter and a major consumer of coal, which accounts for 80 per cent of its electricity generation. It also boasts vast steelworks, and a burgeoning liquefied natural gas sector.

The Minerals Council of Australia said that "with no other nation implementing an economy-wide carbon tax, this is a dangerous experiment with the Australian economy." London-listed Xstrata, one of the country's biggest coal miners, expressed disappointment at "the government's lack of genuine consultation" ahead of the plans.

News of the tax was accompanied by details of compensation measures, including A$1.3bn to help the worst-polluting coal mines. But Dylan Byrne, a partner at the accountancy firm BDO, said: "Our concern is how far that is going to go. There are potentially a lot of mines in parts of Australia that will not see any of that money."