The Australian government has reportedly shelved controversial plans for a national carbon trading program until at least 2013, citing political and public opposition to the proposal. The world’s biggest coal exporter was proposing to reduce greenhouse gases by 5% to 15% of 2000 levels via a carbon trading system similar to Europe’s within the next decade.

The federal Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) had been rejected—for a second time—by the Australian Senate last December, even though the House had already approved the carbon trading bill. At that time, the bill’s failure had been widely tagged to a deadlock over setting a price for carbon emissions, which the business community had said would complicate investment decisions.

Power generation accounts for 36.9% of emissions, or 199.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in Australia. More than 80% of the country’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations. The proposed bill, which would have been introduced in 2011 and covered 1,000 of the nation’s largest emitters, planned to price carbon emissions at A$10 a tonne for the first year.

The Senate was expected to vote on the legislation again when parliament resumes sitting in May, but the government was still struggling to find the handful of opposition votes required to pass the bill.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters on Tuesday that the government was still committed to meeting greenhouse gas emission targets but that it would wait until the end of 2012—when the current Kyoto commitment ends—before implementing the CPRS.

“The opposition decided to backflip on its historical commitment to bring in a CPRS and there has been slow progress in the realisation of global action on climate change,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.

According to The Australian, Rudd’s push to pass the CPRS before the Copenhagen climate change summit last December “now looks completely hollow and Australia’s stance friendless and isolated internationally,” Dennis Shanahan, a political editor at the newspaper opined on Tuesday.

Other newspapers noted that while public support for the carbon trading proposal had slipped, the Rudd government could face a serious challenge at this year’s election. Rudd’s proposed emissions plan had helped propel him to power in 2007, and though he leads in opinion polls, support was rising for opposition leader Tony Abbot’s coalition, it was widely reported.
Abbott, who has in the past questioned the validity of climate change science, strongly opposes Rudd’s climate change policies. His coalition instead calls for “direct action” on climate change, which includes a reduction fund to help cut carbon emissions, planting trees, and implementing a solar rebate and a soil carbon storage plan.

Sources: POWERnews, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian