Australia backs carbon plan, early poll chances cool
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia promised to press on with its carbon trade plan on Tuesday despite the U.N. climate summit's failure to set emissions targets, but the Copenhagen outcome has cooled chances an early election on climate policy.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the government would consider targets by other countries before finalizing domestic targets to curb carbon emissions, blamed for gobal warming.
"We have our target range, we will consider what is put forward by the rest of the world under this agreement, and we will do no more and no less," Wong told Australian radio.
Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter and the developed world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gas per person, and has promised a broad target to curb carbon emissions by between 5 and 25 percent of 2000 levels by 2020.
The accord from the U.N climate summit of 193 countries in Copenhagen included no new emissions targets, but agreed that deep cuts were needed to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.
The result is also likely to make it harder for U.S. President Barack Obama to win Congressional support for a cap and trade carbon scheme in the United States.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wants carbon trading to start in Australia in July 2011, obliging 1,000 of the biggest companies to buy permits for their carbon emissions and providing a market-based incentive to clean up pollution.
But laws to set up the carbon trade scheme have twice been rejected in parliament's upper house, where the opposition has the largest voting bloc, giving Rudd the option of calling an early election on his key climate policy to resolve the deadlock.
Rudd plans to re-introduce the carbon trade laws to parliament in February, but the opposition Liberal Party has hardened its stand after electing new leader Tony Abbott, who won the job with the backing of climate skeptics.
Abbott has been buoyed by the outcome at Copenhagen, saying the lack of firm emissions targets was a rebuff for Rudd and proved Australia should wait to see what other countries do.
EARLY ELECTION COOLS
Analyst Rick Kuhn said the results in Copenhagen would now make Rudd cautious about an early election, with the government more likely to wait for a regular poll due in late 2010.
"Climate change is now clearly not the issue to go to an early election on. I think for the time being, it is off the agenda," Kuhn, from the Australian National University, told Reuters.
Opinion polls continue to show Rudd holds a strong lead and would easily win a fresh election with an increased majority, although analysts expect Abbott's election as opposition leader will see a shift back toward the opposition.
Betting agency Centrebet on Tuesday said Abbott's honeymoon period may already be over, with the odds of the government winning the next election narrowing over the past two weeks to $1.19 for a $1 bet from $1.23.
Kuhn said Abbott, a blunt speaking social conservative who once studied to become a Catholic priest, would win back votes from traditional Liberal Party supporters, but was unlikely to secure enough support to win an election.
"He can play all sorts of right-wing issues, but unless he has some traction on the economic issues, I don't think he is going to get that far," he said.