Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently went on national television to declare that her Government would tax carbon emissions at $25 per ton, eventually replacing the tax by an emissions trading plan operating on the cap-and-trade principle. As this plan would increase market prices, she also proposes an income tax reduction, arguing that this reduction would lessen the impact of increased costs on tax payers.
As to the “debate” on climate change, Ms. Gillard was clear where she stood. “The avalanche of science tells us our climate is changing. The science is in. We know that our planet is warming. We know that warming is changing our climate.”
In his article in the Saturday Globe & Mail, Jeffrey Simpson characterizes Gillard’s statement as “showing political courage”. There have been suggestions that her government, elected with 27% of the popular vote, depends upon the support of the Australian Green Party and independents to stay in power. So perhaps there is an element of political calculation in her statement.
Generally though, climate change issues are a poison for major political parties. We know that Canadian political parties at both the Federal and Provincial levels that have promoted responsible action on climate change have been punished at the polls.
The same is true for Australia: the previous PM, Kevin Rudd, approved the Kyoto Convention on climate change, a decision that contributed to his ouster after a revolt within his own party. His adversary, John Howard, lost the 2007 election after including an emissions trading system in his party’s election platform.
In Canada we have to depend on the Federal Government to deal with climate change over the next four years, which are perhaps the most crucial times for controlling this potential menace. So far the Conservatives have shown no interest in either carbon taxes or cap-and-trade proposals. They have proposed regulations on large emitters, a step that will not lose them any votes, but will probably not achieve the reductions in GHG emissions necessary if Canada is to abide by the reduction targets announced by Prime Minister Harper following the Copenhagen Conference.
Simpson concludes his comments with this summary:
“The Australian scheme does show political courage. It also grasps the essence of any serious attack on carbon emissions – that a price has to be put on these emissions.
Any other approach is bound to fail. Regulations and subsidies, the chosen means of the Harper government, will be an expensive failure, as they have been when used elsewhere. But then this government remains indifferent to climate change, unlike our Australian cousins.”