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Australia scraps carbon tax

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Bucking global efforts to curtail carbon pollution, Australia’s conservative government yesterday abolished a national carbon tax that it had long opposed. The move to “ax the tax”—as Prime Minister Tony Abbott is fond of saying—makes Australia the first country in the world to abolish a functioning carbon pricing scheme.

In 2009, Abbott, then leader of the opposition, dismissed climate change as “absolute crap.” The centerpiece of Australia’s Clean Energy Act passed in 2012, the carbon tax required 350 of the nation’s biggest polluters to purchase carbon credits, valued at AU$23 per ton, if they exceeded their allotted targets.  At a press conference on Thursday, Abbott hailed the demise of the “useless, destructive tax.”

Australian researchers have condemned the move. The tax repeal is a “dereliction of duty with respect to the rights of young people and future generations,” says energy research expert Hugh Outhred of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “The perfect storm of stupidity,” adds Roger Jones, a specialist in climate change risk and adaptation at Victoria University in Melbourne. Scrapping the tax, he argues, demonstrates a “complete disregard” for the science of climate change. “It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policymaking.”

The Clean Energy Act led to a “significant and immediate” reduction in Australia’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, says energy analyst Roger Dargaville of the University of Melbourne. He calculates that in 2012, when the carbon price was introduced, emissions from the National Electricity Market were 95 megatons of CO2 per year. They are now running 85 megatons a year.

The introduction of the carbon tax, along with Australia’s target of generating 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy a year by 2020, up from 21,000 in 2013, has helped increase renewable energy use and reduce the country’s heavy reliance on coal, Dargaville says. Now that progress is in jeopardy. In February, the government appointed a panel headed by Dick Warburton, the former chair of global fuel giant Caltex, to review the renewable energy target. The government has also introduced legislation to dismantle the Australian Renewable Energy Agency—an independent body established in 2012 to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy—and it is seeking to shutter the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which supports startup companies in the clean energy sector.