In his run for office, Tony Abbott proffered a blood oath to the Australian public that he would repeal the carbon tax. Yesterday the Prime Minister – who once referred to climate science as “crap” – made good on his word. The conservative wing of his Liberal party rejoiced, as did those businesses that, over the law’s two-year history, never ceased to resent the compulsion to pay a fee of $25.40 for every tonne of carbon they burned. “A terrible day in Australia’s history” was the verdict of the Green Party leader. Gloom is more than merited.
Carbon taxes – alongside cap-and-trade schemes, which allow businesses to trade pollution permits – are perhaps the simplest method of bringing down CO2 levels. Economists for the most part adore them. They correct a market failure: forcing polluters to face up to the damage they inflict on the planet, and by extension, the generations of future children who will have to inhabit it after we are gone.
Australia’s jump from pioneer to laggard leaves it without a credible policy of achieving the bare minimum of its own climate targets: it scuppers a successful scheme (a 0.8 per cent emissions reduction was recorded in its first year) at a time when climate change is bleaching the Aussie reefs at unprecedented speed.
What criticism there has been from UK and EU leaders came at low volume. Perhaps they have in mind the old adage about throwing stones in glass houses. On a much smaller scale, David Cameron offered British voters a similar choice – cheap on the one hand, environmentally friendly on the other – when he scrapped green levies on energy bills last year (apparently terming them “green crap”). Moreover, had it continued, Australia’s carbon price would have soon been linked to Europe’s pusillanimous Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – bringing its value down from $25 to the rock-bottom levels on the Continent.
There can be no question that Australia has taken a retrograde step. Its decision may slow the spread of carbon pricing. But Mr Abbott is not the only man to blame: too many world leaders, and too many voters, still favour cash now over a habitable planet later.