Australia on Monday abruptly shifted its climate policy to give polluting industries more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia would delay the start of emissions trading by one year—until July 2011—to provide relief for firms ailing from the global economic recessions.
For the first year carbon prices will be fixed at AU$10 ($7) per ton, well below the prices in the E.U.’s Emissions Trading System, Europe’s compliance market, where allowances traded Monday around €14 ($18).
Rudd also announced a “global recession buffer” to provide assistance for polluting companies, ranging from 5 to 10 percent.
The moves marked a shift for Rudd who was elected on a pro-green platform in 2007. Still he offered a concession to environmentalists in the changes, committing Australia to a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 levels by 2020 — up from 15 percent #&8212; provided world leaders agree to “an ambitious global deal to stabilize levels of CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere by at least 450 parts per million by 2050″ at climate talks this December in Copenhagen. 450 ppm is widely seen by scientists as a critical tipping point for climate, a level beyond which would put much of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef at risk from ocean acidification and coral bleaching from high temperatures. Scientists say climate change will worsen drought and the incidence of fire across much of Australia.
Rudd said that Australia would commit to a 5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 levels “regardless of action taken internationally”.
He also noted that up to 5 percent of a 25 percent cut could come from reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), an initiative that compensates tropical countries for protecting their rainforests.