The Rudd government’s revised Emissions Trading Scheme has been welcomed by conservation and business groups.


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday redrew his government’s plan to tackle climate change, in the process breaking a key promise he took to the election.

Under the new plan, an emissions trading scheme will begin in mid-2011, a year later than originally planned.

But the government has raised its emissions reduction target to up to 25 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020, depending the strength of an international agreement. There are also concessions for business.

The price of carbon will be slashed from $40 per tonne to $10 per tonne while emissions trading is phased in and there’ll also be a new “global recession buffer” for emissions intensive, trade exposed industries.

The Southern Cross Climate Coalition – including the Australian Conservation Foundation, the green group WWF and the Australian Council of Trade Unions – backed the new approach.

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry said the higher 2020 reduction target would help Australia put pressure on other countries to cut their own emissions.

He described the revised 25 per cent target as significant, adding it would allow Australia to play a credible role internationally.

The research group, The Climate Institute, was also optimistic the higher target would give Australia credibility at the next UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

“This package today puts Australia in the position to help build an international agreement that counts,” the institute’s chief executive John Conner said.

There was support too from business groups.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said a delayed start to emissions trading would help business adjust.

“More certainty has been provided today in terms of the lower carbon price initially in that first year, which will be a benefit to business in terms of lower energy costs,” ACCI’s director of industry policy and economics Greg Evans said.

But the chamber still has concerns about what impact a market price for carbon will have on business after 2012.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) agreed the delay would give business breathing space, but believed the higher target would be hard for Australia to achieve “both physically and economically”.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said what business needed most was certainty, and called for legislation to be passed this year.

The Minerals Council of Australia, speaking on behalf of Australia’s mining companies including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, said the delay was delaying inevitable job losses.

“The proposed one-year delay amounts to little more than a temporary stay of execution for thousands of mining jobs and billions of dollars in investment including in breakthrough low-emissions technologies,” Minerals Council chief executive Mitchell Hooke said in a statement.

But ACTU president Sharan Burrow said an emissions trading scheme would create jobs in new green industries.

“The prime minister and the minister for climate change (Penny Wong) have put Australia in a position where we can go to the international negotiations with our head held high,” she said.

Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Paul Howes, who has previously been a critic of an emissions trading scheme, said delaying the scheme by a year was “a step in the right direction”.

But he said the union representing mining sector workers needed time to formulate its position.

There were other voices of dissent, but they appeared to be in the minority.

Greenpeace said the changes still fell “dismally short” of what was required.

“Kevin Rudd may know a political deal when he sees one, but you can’t negotiate with climate change,” said Greenpeace’s head of campaigns Steve Campbell.

Climate science showed a cut of 50 per cent in emissions was needed for a fighting chance of avoiding the worst effects, he said.