Australians burn a lot of carbon. Per person, they’re right up there with Americans:
The map here is based on data from 2000. In 2008, Australians spewed out 18.9 tonnes of CO2 per person in the process of burning fossil fuels and making cement. Americans spewed 17.5 tonnes per person. The world average was just 4.4.
Australians also mine a lot of coal. It’s their biggest export! On top of that, coal exports have more than doubled in recent years:
Last Sunday, however, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a tax on carbon!
In this scheme, the 500 biggest polluters in Australia will be taxed at AU $23 per tonne of carbon emissions starting in July 2012. The price will increase 2.5% each year until 2015, and then a carbon trading scheme will be introduced. The hope is that by 2020, Australian carbon emissions will drop 5% below 2000 levels.
Of course, the further we go into the future, the less sure we can be of anything. What if Gillard’s party gets voted out of power? There’s already considerable dissatisfaction with Gillard’s plan, in part because she had earlier said:
There will be no carbon tax under the Government I lead.
but mainly, of course, because taxes are unpopular and the coal lobby is very strong in Australia. There’s been a lot of talk about how the carbon tax will hurt the economy.
These objections are to be expected, and thus not terribly interesting (even if they’re valid). However, some more interesting objections are posed here:
• Annabel Crab, Australia’s diabolical carbon pricing scheme, ABC News, 13 July 2010.
First, it seems that Prime Minister Gillard favors continuing to sell lots of coal to other countries. As she recently said:
Tony Abbott was predicting Armageddon for the coal mining industry But the future of coal mining in Australia is bright.
But coal mining can’t really have a ‘bright future’ in a decarbonized world unless we capture and store the carbon dioxide emitted by coal-burning plants.
Second, in the planned carbon trading scheme beginning in 2015, Australian companies will be allowed to account for half of their emissions reductions by simply buying permits from overseas. I’m not sure this is bad: it could simply be efficient. However, Annabel Crab points out that it has some seemingly paradoxical effects. She quotes a Treasury document saying:
In a world where other countries pursue more ambitious abatement targets, the carbon price will be higher, and this increases the cost in terms of domestic production and income foregone.
Is this really bad? I’m not sure. I hope however that the Australian carbon tax goes forward to the point where we can see its effects instead of merely speculate about them.