Unprecedented heatwaves, along with worsening bushfires, storms and droughts, already bear witness to climate change in Australia. Yet the country now has no strategy to cut fossil fuel emissions, after Tony Abbott’s government scrapped carbon pricing.
The move threatens to make an international laughing-stock of Australia, which inhabits the world’s driest continent (after Antarctica) and is widely considered the developed nation most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts.
“Dear children & grandchildren, I am sorry. We did our best,” tweeted an Australian Greens politician, Sarah Wright, after legislation repealing the “carbon tax” passed through the Senate, with the help of Clive Palmer, the mining billionaire turned MP.
Mr Abbott, whose right-wing coalition was elected last year after vowing to “axe the [carbon] tax”, was jubilant. “The tax that you voted to get rid of is finally gone,” he said – ignoring the election promises he has broken, including one not to cut education and health spending.
The abolition of carbon pricing, which penalised the big polluters, followed a lengthy scare campaign. Abbott warned that the cost of living would rocket – a leg of lamb would end up costing A$100 (£55), his Agriculture Minister claimed – and a South Australian steel town, Whyalla, would be “wiped off the map”.
As of today, supermarkets were selling a leg of lamb for $15.10, according to The Age’s economics editor. And the last time anyone looked, Whyalla remained extant.
Australia is now out of step with Europe, which has an, imperfect trading-emissions scheme; the US, which is trying to introduce carbon pricing; South Korea, which implements a trading scheme next year, and China, now piloting seven regional schemes after, reportedly, adopting elements of the Australian model.
Christine Milne, the Greens’ leader, warned Australia risked becoming “a global pariah in the family of nations”. But Mr Abbott, who once described climate change science as “absolute crap”, is more interested in short-term political gain – and in boosting the nation’s bottom line by trebling coal exports. At a mining industry dinner in May, he lamented that carbon pricing “said … to the wider world that a commodity which in many years is our single biggest export should be left in the ground and not sold”.
The irony is that carbon pricing was working. A study by the Australian National University’s Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, due to be submitted for peer review, links it to a 0.8 per cent drop in emissions in 2013.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies