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Emissions soar as Australia repeals its carbon tax

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Creative Commons, US State Department, 2013

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Creative Commons, US State Department, 2013

Just six months after repealing its two-year-old carbon tax, Australia’s carbon emissions have seen a dramatic increase.

The tax was originally implemented in 2012 by the Australian Labour Party in an attempt to tackle the country’s booming emissions levels. At the time, Australia’s, emissions were ranked 11th highest in the world, with each person producing approximately 18.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

The tax, which covered 60% of the Australian economy—including power plants—put a price of $23 on every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.

Carbons emissions saw a steep decline over the two years the tax was in effect. In the power sector, emissions dropped by approximately 9% within six months of the law’s implementation. Falling emissions were attributable, in part, to energy producers switching generation from coal plants to hydropower.

The tax was scheduled to transform into a cap and trade system with a flexible price by 2015. This initiative would have partnered with the European Union Emissions Trading System.

However, the tax was highly unpopular with voters and faced opposition from powerful Australian mining companies. In July 2014 a newly elected government repealed the tax with a 39-32 Senate vote.

In the 100 days following the repeal, the electricity industry’s carbon emissions have once more escalated, incentivized by the lack of tax.

Mike Sandiford, an energy expert at the University of Melbourne, explained:

During the years of carbon pricing—2012 to 2014—hydro was being dispatched at unsustainable levels. Since repeal, the reduction in hydro output has been substantially picked up by brown coal generators in Victoria. In effect we will have just about zeroed out the emissions reductions achieved over the last few years.

Yet the Australian government claims it is still committed to reducing its carbon emissions to 5% below millennial levels by 2020. Recently, it set up a $2.25 billion fund to incentivize companies to become more energy efficient.

The move has been criticized by some, who claim the fund will be too ineffectual to make a real impact on emissions. They argue that carbon pricing is necessary is to meet its carbon targets.

Moreover, economists have weighed in to suggest that carbon pricing is an effective way of tackling global warming.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to suffer under the effects of man-made global warming. Intense heatwaves are becoming more frequent, increasing the risk of droughts and wildfires. Meanwhile, projections show that the costs of dealing with climate change-related natural disasters could tally in the billions.

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