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Bushfires Burn As Australia Prepares Final ETS Laws

Date: 23-Nov-09
Country: AUSTRALIA
Author: Michael Perry

SYDNEY - After months of political haggling the Australian government will unveil its revised carbon trading laws this week, with a vote expected by the year's final day of parliament on Thursday.

If the emissions trading scheme (ETS) is rejected by a hostile Senate for a second time, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would have a trigger for a snap election on climate change.

Rudd's Labor government has a commanding lead in opinion polls over the Liberal Party. Elections are due in late 2010.

"Everyone in Australia ... this weekend would work it out that we are among the hottest and driest continents on Earth. We will feel the effects of climate change fastest and hardest," said Rudd, referring to more than 80 bushfires in Australia and temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We must act this week and the government will be doing everything possible to make sure that that can occur," he said.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said on Sunday that an amended ETS would be presented to opposition parties on Tuesday for their consideration before a vote in the Senate.

"We anticipate that we will be in a position to put a very clear offer to the opposition on Tuesday morning," Wong told Australian television. "The (opposition) coalition negotiators know broadly where we are likely to land."

The scheme, due to start in July 2011, will cover 1,000 of Australia's biggest polluters and will be the second domestic trading platform outside of Europe, putting a price on every tonne of carbon emissions.

The debate is being closely watched overseas, particularly in the United States where lawmakers are debating their own proposals. Neighboring New Zealand is also trying to pass revised emissions trading laws.

The carbon trading scheme was a key promise of Rudd's 2007 election campaign and he wants the ETS laws passed before December's global climate talks in Copenhagen.

But Liberal MPs are opposed to the scheme saying it will cost jobs and damage industry. Some are unconvinced that human activity is the main driver of climate change and plan to vote against the laws regardless of the government's changes.

The government needs an extra seven votes in the hostile Senate to pass its ETS laws.

The government has already agreed to exclude agriculture from the ETS. The opposition is seeking further amendments to ensure additional protection to coal miners and electricity generators.

Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter, produces about 1.5 percent of global emissions and is one of the world's highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

Australia has now set a reduction target of 5 to 25 percent, with the upper level kicking in if a strong agreement is reached at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen.

Australia's Greens, who plan to vote against the ETS laws, released legal advice on Sunday warning that any attempt to strengthen pollution reduction targets after the laws are passed could trigger billions of dollars in compensation to industries.

The legal advise said that permits to pollute purchased in the ETS would be legally deemed personal property and under the constitution if the government changed the value of personal property it must be done on just terms.

"The Rudd government's targets have failure written all over them," said Greens Senate leader Bob Brown. "Yet the ETS legislation will lock them in until 2020 since any increase will trigger compensation claims worth billions of dollars."

(Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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