SYDNEY Australian Prime Minister John Howard
pledged on Sunday to establish a national carbon trading scheme
by 2012 to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions, calling
it the most momentous economic challenge of our time.
Seeking to deflect opposition charges that he had presided
over a decade of foot-dragging on climate change, the
conservative leader said an "aspirational" target for reducing
carbon emissions would be set in 2008 once the economic costs
had been fully studied.
"The scheme will be national in scope and as comprehensive
as practicable, designed to take account of global developments
and preserve the competitiveness of our trade-exposed,
emissions-intensive industries," Howard told a meeting of the
ruling Liberal Party's Federal Council.
The centre-left Labor opposition, well ahead in opinion
polls before an election due later this year, has pledged to
cut emissions by 60 percent by 2050.
Howard emphasized that the onus would be on the free market
to curb emissions and warned that it would mean higher energy
costs for business and households.
"The market will sort out the most efficient means of
lowering emissions, with all lowering emissions technologies on
the table and that must include nuclear power," he said.
Carbon trading involves putting a price and limits on
pollution, allowing companies that clean up their operations to
sell any savings below their allocated level to other
Howard said dealing with climate change would be the most
momentous economic decision Australia would take in the next
decade and the scheme would have to last the whole century.
"This is a great economic challenge for Australia as well
as an environmental challenge," he said. "If we get this wrong
it will do enormous damage to the economy, to jobs and to the
economic wellbeing of ordinary Australians."
This marks something of a turnaround for Howard's
conservative coalition government which has spent much of the
past 11 years in power playing down the risks of global
But opinion polls have shown that up to 80 percent of
voters want the government to do more on climate change.
With elections looming, polls show Howard's government
would overwhelmingly lose a vote held now and the prime
minister is desperate to turn opinion around.
Howard set up an inquiry into carbon trading six months ago
to find ways of pricing pollution without hurting Australia's
economy or its standing as the world's leading coal exporter.
The report, compiled by government officials and business
leaders, stopped short of setting a specific price for carbon
emissions, but recommended setting guidelines for a carbon
price, with the ultimate figure left to the market.
The report also said an Australian trading scheme should be
able to link up eventually with other global schemes.
The report found Australia, which accounts for 1.5 percent
of global carbon emissions, could not wait for a co-ordinated
global response to address climate change. Australia relies on
coal for about 80 percent of electricity generation, with
renewable energy contributing only about five percent.