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Measuring Australia's response to international climate change legislation

By Jo Coghlan - posted Tuesday, 5 July 2011

In July 2008, Newpoll reported that more than 80 per cent of Australians supported the introduction of an emissions trading scheme (ETS). Voters it seemed accepted Kevin Rudd's 2007 view that: "Climate change is the great moral challenge of our generation." By comparison only a third of New Zealand (NZ) voters in 2008 supported New Zealand Labour's ETS 2008 legislation. Three years later, and following the election of the National Party's John Key NZ introduced a broad ETS.

The NZ ETS is a market-based approach for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Carbon credits are traded between participants. A price on greenhouse gas emissions provides incentives for people to reduce those emissions and plant forests to absorb carbon dioxide. The NZ ETS has flexibility in how participants comply with obligations enabling them to choose the most cost effective way of reducing emissions. The NZ ETS covers the emission outlined in the Kyoto Protocol of which NZ is a signatory.

In 2008 the British government introduced the Climate Change Act. The 2008 Act amended the provisions of the 2004 Energy Act in relation to renewable fuels and waste. The 2008 Act set 2050 as a target to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It provided for a system of carbon budgeting, established trading schemes for the purpose of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, encouraged activities that reduce emissions and remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, and provided financial incentives to produce less domestic waste and to recycle.


In December 2010 the British Coalition government introduced the Energy Bill. The Department of Energy and Climate Change announced its key provision as a 'Green Deal'. It is a framework to enable private firms to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements to their homes, communities and businesses with no upfront cost, and recoup payments through a charge in installments on the energy bill. It is noted that the 'Green Deal' does not set a new carbon emissions target.

The U.K. targets are still the ones set by the Climate Change Act 2008: a reduction of carbon emissions of 34 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050, based on 1990 levels. One of the core initiatives is to facilitate the retrospective fitting of energy saving measures to millions of homes across the U.K. The scheme is expected to trigger around £7billion of private sector investment, creating up to 250,000 jobs.

Joan Ruddock, Labor's former Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, spoke of the need to secure a political momentum to drive forward negotiations on a global climate deal: "It is no exaggeration to say that our environment, our economy, and our whole way of life are under threat from the impacts of the changing climate". Coalition Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne has said the 'Green Deal' is a "game changer", it will "provide a framework that will enable billions of pounds of investment" to develop "energy saving industries" and to reduce Britain's dependence on imported energy."

Canada has committed to reducing Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. This is the target that is inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord. To meet this target Canada has introduced the Passenger Automobile and Light Truck Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations. The regulations require the automotive industry to make significant technological improvements to vehicles to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a result of the regulations, it is projected that the average GHG emission performance of new vehicles of the 2016 model year will be about 25 per cent lower than that of the vehicles that were sold in Canada in 2008.

Canada has also introduced Renewable Fuel Regulations, requiring an average renewable fuel content of five per cent in gasoline that will come into effect starting December 15, 2010. There are also new legislated regulations on coal-fired electricity generation that aims to make Canada's electricity sector one of the world's cleanest.

For the Canadian government climate change is a "global problem". Canada supports an "aggressive approach to achieve real environmental and economic benefits". It accepts that the human causes of climate change and understands its impacts on the environment and human health". It accepts that there are "pressures from a growing population, invasive species, pollution, climate change and changes in land-use patterns are placing extraordinary demands on biodiversity and ecosystems and threatening the long-term viability of Canada's natural environment." This view drives the government's climate change policies as well as it is Environmental Protection Act.


The core debate on Australia's response to climate change has been the Garnaut Climate Change Review, led by Professor Ross Garnaut. It was commissioned by the Rudd government in 2007 to conduct an independent study of the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy. The Garnaut Climate Change Review: Update 2011 released a series of papers in early 2011 addressing developments across a range of subjects including climate change science and impacts, emissions trends, carbon pricing, technology, land and the electricity sector. The reviews conclude that most Australians believe the climate is changing, but fewer believe that the change is attributable to human activity.

It also found that beliefs about climate change are strongly related to political preferences, voting behaviors and gender. It also found most Australians believe that Australia should take action on climate change without waiting for global consensus however there was no clear consensus on what policy actions Australians prefer, such as setting a carbon price or establishing an emissions trading scheme.

Sadly, Julia Gillard's carbon tax plan has reversed public support for action on global warming, damaged her leadership and delivered Labor its lowest primary support on record. Opposition leader, Tony Abbott is now the closest he has been to Gillard as preferred prime minister. Gillard's personal support has gone from its best since she became Prime Minister in June 2010 to her worst. Since Gillard announced her intention to introduce a carbon tax from July 2011, initial positive Australian support for action on global warming, has turned negative. A majority of people (53 per cent), are now against Labor's plan, with 42 per cent in favor. With the Australian Greens now in control of the Senate, climate change legislation will be one of the most horse-traded issues in Australian politics.

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About the Author

Jo Coghlan is a lecturer in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University.

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