Australia launches bold new plan on global warming

The Australian government has revealed details of a new carbon tax, to be implemented next year. It will help slow global warming, but industry leaders are worried.

Even after two years, Australians are still shaken by the memory of the 'Black Saturday' bushfires. Huge walls of flame tore through forests which had been dried out by weeks of record high temperatures. By the time the last smoking cinders were extinguished, 173 people had been killed and one million acres burnt.

It was one of the worst disasters in Australia's history; a reminder – if any more were needed – of how vulnerable this huge, hot island is to global warming. Meanwhile, a fifty-year warming trend caused a devastating, decade-long drought called the 'Big Dry', wrecking livelihoods and putting a major dent in the national economy.

With so much at stake, you'd think that citizens would welcome a new scheme, just announced by the Australian government, to fight global warming. Instead, they're up in arms. Recent polls show 60% of the country is opposed to the plans, which would see polluters pay tax on carbon dioxide emissions.

The idea is simple: by making companies pay for each tonne of CO2 they emit, you encourage them to turn to more efficient sources of energy and to cut down on fossil fuel use. When CO2 use is taxed, going green is good business.

Phase 1 of the plan will run from 2012 to 2015, when the simple carbon tax is to be replaced with a new system of transferrable permits called 'cap and trade'. Companies that pollute less will be able to make profit by selling pollution allowances to those that pollute more.

But although the aim is noble, the details have been bitterly disputed. Some industries have successfully lobbied to be given full or partial exemptions from the tax. Others feel unfairly targeted. Energy suppliers and airlines warn that they will pass costs on to customers in the form of higher prices.

Most worried of all are exporters of things like steel or coal. They say they will have to compete on the world market with foreign companies which don't have to pay any carbon taxes. If their prices go up, they will lose business to these cheaper competitors and Australia's economy will suffer.

One for the team

It's a debate that is raging in various forms all over the world. Governments want to penalise polluters and cut carbon, but companies fear being unfairly disadvantaged in world markets. They have a point. Any country that acts alone immediately hands a trade advantage to its neighbours, injuring its chances in the competitive global economy.

But attempts to gather support for internationally coordinated moves have failed. Environmentalists argue that someone has to lead the way. That may mean making a sacrifice for the good of the world.

You Decide

  1. What level of sacrifice, if any, should we be willing to make in order to slow down global warming?
  2. By taxing CO2 emissions, governments interfere with free markets. What does that mean – and is it a bad thing?

Activities

  1. There are lots of situations where no one wants to act to tackle a problem unless everyone else does too. Nuclear disarmament is one example. Picking up litter might be another. Can you think of any more examples? How can these problems be made easier to solve?
  2. Do some further research into 'cap and trade'. Then design a poster to show how it works.

Some People Say...

“What do you think?”

What do you think?

Q & A

Would Australia be the first to implement a carbon tax?
Australian industrialists say that no other country has put such a wide-ranging system in place. But there are other similar schemes.
Like what?
The biggest cap and trade scheme in the world is in the EU, but critics say it was badly designed and doesn't work very well. Too many emissions permits were handed out for free.
Anywhere else?
China is a huge polluter, but it has now promised to adopt a nationwide carbon trading scheme by 2015. India has limited trading in place. The USA is the exception among the big polluters, with no sort of carbon tax.
Why should Australia be involved?
Surprisingly, it has the highest CO2 emissions per person of any developed country.

Word Watch

Carbon dioxide emissions
Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas and cause of global warming. It is produced mainly by burning fossil fuels.
CO2
The chemical symbol for carbon dioxide, which has one carbon atom (C) and two oxygen atoms (O2).
Lobbied
Big companies often pay 'lobbyists', who try to persuade government ministers to support the aims of the company in question. This 'lobbying' is sometimes highly effective.
Pass costs on
When companies face higher expenses (like extra tax or costly raw materials) they often add the extra expense to the price they charge consumers. This is called passing on the costs.

Subjects

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