Australian States Leave Feds Behind on Greenhouse Gas Trading

MELBOURNE, Australia, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - The states and territories of Australia have reached a joint agreement on greenhouse gas emissions trading to fight climate change. The federal government, under Prime Minister John Howard, has declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, so the states and territories have initiated their own emissions reduction scheme.

"The federal government continues to neglect its responsibility to take meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment for future generations," said Victorian Premier Steve Bracks on Thursday, as he announced the emissions trading agreement in principle.

"The Victorian Government announced last year a national trading scheme was the best way to face this challenge and this communiqué represents further progress in developing such a model," Bracks said.


Premier Steve Bracks heads the state government of Victoria. (Photo courtesy Office of the Premier)
"Victoria is home to many energy intensive industries and we will continue to position ourselves to adjust to changing world attitudes to climate change. A national trading scheme would create investment, drive the development of new technology and change attitudes to the emission of greenhouse gases," said Bracks.

The European Union started an emissions trading scheme in January and close to a dozen U.S. states are examining a similar plan. The private sector Chicago Climate Exchange is already trading carbon dioxide (CO2) credits. CO2, emitted by the combustion of coal, oil and gas, is the main greenhouse gas responsible for global climate change.

Bracks said the Howard Government's "head in the sand" approach leaves Australian and Victorian businesses at risk of falling behind as the rest of the world implements emissions trading schemes.

Queensland supports ongoing investigations into the development of a national emissions trading scheme, Premier Peter Beattie said Thursday.

"While the Commonwealth has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, Australia will meet its 2008-2012 emissions reduction targets because of my government's ban on tree clearing, Beattie said.

Australia would have been allowed to emit eight percent above its 1990 level of carbon dioxide emissions, if the country had ratified the protocol.


Premier Peter Beattie leads the state government of Queensland. (Photo courtesy Office of the Premier)
Beattie said it would be best if any new emissions trading arrangements involved the federal government because it would be difficult to develop a national emissions trading scheme without its support.

In emissions trading systems a cap is set on the total volume of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. The cap is divided into tradeable permits, each equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide. Participating companies are required to hold a number of permits greater or equal to their actual emissions.

The right to emit carbon dioxide becomes a tradeable commodity, creating a new market that places a price on greenhouse gas emissions and provides an incentive to find new and smarter ways of reducing emissions.

The Australian Wind Energy Association (AusWEA) today commended Australia’s state and territory leaders for reaching the agreement in-principle to establish a state and territory emissions trading system.

AusWEA’s CEO, Dominique La Fontaine, said, “This move takes the role of greenhouse gas reduction measures seriously and will support Australia’s renewable energy operations in the post-Kyoto market."

“Coupled with a state-based renewable energy target, an emissions trading scheme would go some way to addressing the void left by the current federal Mandatory Renewable Energy Target,” she said.

Industry experts expect the national target to be filled by existing renewable energy projects as early as 2007, a scenario which could stagnate the entire renewable energy industry.

In addition to emissions trading, the wind energy industry needs consistent renewable energy targets, which build long-term capacity for projects, allowing greenhouse abatement costs to fall over time while providing regional investment and employment, said La Fontaine.

power plant

Swanbank coal-fired power plant in Queensland (Photo courtesy CS Energy)
Seventy percent of Australians are worried about global warming and 46 percent are very worried, according to a major public opinion survey of Australian attitudes towards a broad range of foreign policy issues published on March 29 by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

The Lowy Institute’s report, "Australians Speak 2005," found that Australians are more concerned about global warming than about international terrorism or illegal immigration and refugees. Only the nuclear threat worries respondents more than climate change.

The Lowy report also found that Australians believe that “improving the global environment” should be Australia’s number one foreign policy goal.

Greenpeace Clean Energy campaigner Mark Wakeham said, “Clearly Australians understand the warnings from scientists about greenhouse pollution far better than our governments do. Once again, the community is leading and governments will be pulled into line.”

“Scientists tell us that, to avoid dangerous warming of more than two degrees, we have to cut our greenhouse pollution by at least 60 percent by 2050," Wakeham said. "This means moving rapidly and decisively away from dirty coal to clean, renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and energy efficiency.”

“The fact that only the nuclear threat concerns Australians more than climate change exposes the madness of claiming that we should move backwards to nuclear power to reduce greenhouse pollution,” said Wakeham.