Kevin Rudd says the scheme will be delayed to 2013 because of parliamentary opposition
David Adam and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 April 2010 18.09 BST
The Australian government has shelved plans for an ambitious carbon trading scheme that was the cornerstone of a pledge to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions by up to a quarter by 2020.
Kevin Rudd, Australian prime minister, said the start of the scheme would be delayed to 2013 because of parliamentary opposition and slow progress on a new global climate change pact.
Rudd said the government would wait until the first phase of the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012 before implementing plans for one of the world's most comprehensive carbon-cutting regimes.
"That will provide the Australian government at the time with a better position to assess the level of global action on climate change," Rudd said.
The decision comes after the opposition Liberal party in December ousted its leader Malcolm Turnbull, who backed the trading scheme, and replaced him with Tony Abbott, whom critics have labelled a climate sceptic.
Plans for the scheme have been rejected twice in the Australian Senate, where the government is seven votes short of a majority.
The delay follows a set-back for carbon trading plans in the US, where a high-profile launch of proposed climate change laws was abandoned yesterday. The proposals had carbon trading at their heart but were put on hold when Lindsey Graham, a Republican and one of three senators behind the proposals, fell out with Democrats over immigration laws. The move puts a core Obama mission in jeopardy and further complicates international efforts to reach a deal on global warming.
The promise of an Australian emissions scheme helped propel Rudd to power in 2007, but public support has slipped. Another election is due this year.
Rudd said the Liberal party's decision to "backflip on its historical commitment to bring in a carbon pollution reduction scheme" had contributed to the delay. "It's very plain that the correct course of action is to extend the implementation date." He insisted his government remained committed to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. "Climate change remains a fundamental economic and environmental and moral challenge for all Australians, and for all peoples of the world. That just doesn't go away," he said.
A spokeswoman for Penny Wong, climate change minister, said: "The blocking of the carbon pollution reduction scheme legislation by the opposition has caused delays and created uncertainties which will of course affect the budget."
Joe Hockey, conservative opposition treasury spokesman, said delaying the scheme made a mockery of Rudd's pledge that global warming was the "great moral and economic challenge of our time".
Hockey said the scheme had been shelved to improve the budget outlook, helping to improve the forecast AU$57.7bn (£34.6bn) deficit for the year to end-June 2010.
The Australian Greens, who control five of seven Senate cross bench votes the government needs to pass legislation, said the decision to abandon the emissions scheme meant the government should look at interim alternatives such as a levy on polluters.
"In the face of ever-stronger warnings from scientists, the government must not throw the baby out with the bath water and abandon any plans to put a price on carbon," said Christine Milne, deputy leader of the Greens.
Abbott, who has said it would be premature for Australia to adopt such a scheme ahead of other countries, told ABC News: "It seems the government has dropped its policy to deal with climate change because it is frightened the public think that this really is just a great big new tax on everything."
A new survey conducted by Auspoll for the Climate Institute and the Conservation Foundation found voter concern about global warming in Australia has slipped nine points since May 2009, but was still strong at 68%, with climate still an election issue.
Just 36% of voters believed Rudd was the best person to handle climate issues, a fall of 10% from February last year, while 40% said there was no difference between the government and the conservative opposition.