Overview of the Australian government’s proposed carbon-pricing scheme prepared for the Breakthrough Institute.
Last week, the Australian government unveiled the details of its long-anticipated carbon-pricing scheme, which include a fixed-carbon price of $23 per tonne as well as several measures to encourage the research, development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies. In contrast to the death of cap-and-trade in the United States last year, the passage of Australia’s national carbon price legislation is virtually guaranteed. Unfortunately, much of the legislation rests with the magical thinking that international offsets will drive the country’s decarbonisation, rather than full-scale efforts to drive the development and deployment of clean energy technologies.
Under the proposal, Australia will have a fixed-carbon price of $23 per tonne from July 1 2012, before moving to a cap-and-trade scheme in three years time. A Climate Change Authority will be established to advise the government on emission reduction targets and a minimum target of 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 has been agreed on. Starting in July of next year, the nation’s 500 largest emitters (excluding the agricultural sector) will be charged for each tonne of carbon they emit. To assuage voters, petrol is excluded from the scheme and compensation will be available for nine out ten households. Industry will receive $9.2 billion to manage the introduction of the carbon price.
Carbon pricing was not an issue the centre-left Labor government chose to champion. It is well known that as Deputy PM, Julia Gillard advised her predecessor Kevin Rudd to drop Labor’s first attempt to price carbon–the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Under Julia Gillard’s leadership, the party contested the 2010 election with an explicit pledge not to pursue a carbon tax, but after an inconclusive election result the measure was reluctantly accepted as the price of forming a minority government and hanging on to power.
Throughout the carbon price debate Labor politicians have propagated the myth that a carbon price alone will decarbonise the economy. Addressing the Committee for Economic Development of Australia earlier in the year, the Prime Minister claimed “a carbon price will drive another sweeping technological revolution like Information Technology did in the 1980s and 90s.” As I have argued previously, when it comes to clean technology innovation and deployment, carbon price is no silver bullet. Now, with The Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate, the government was forced to concede the limits of carbon pricing and adopt additional renewable energy support measures.
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