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Aussie carbon tax revolt ‘bizarre’: expert

March 8, 2011 – 1:29PM

A European Union climate expert has described Australian opposition to a carbon tax as bizarre, diplomatically pointing out Britain’s Conservatives were more co-operative in opposition.

Jill Duggan, who managed Britain’s initial emissions trading scheme (ETS), said there was an incorrect perception that Australia would be going it alone if it put a price on carbon.

“The thing that struck me is how the debate has changed here and also that wide perception that I keep hearing that Australia shouldn’t go first,” she told reporters in Canberra today.

“Coming from Europe, that sounds slightly bizarre because there are 30 countries in Europe that have had a carbon price … since the beginning of 2005.”

While reluctant to comment on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s campaign against a carbon tax, Ms Duggan pointed out how the British Conservative Party was enthusiastic about an ETS when in opposition.

“During the last Labour government, it wasn’t Conservatives saying, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,'” she said.

“They said, ‘You should be doing more, you should be doing it faster.'”

Ms Duggan also dismissed suggestions that a carbon price would push up electricity prices dramatically, arguing higher oil and commodity prices accounted for three-quarters of the 40 per cent increase in power bills during the first year of an ETS in Britain.

Job losses were also minimal, with the European ETS creating service-sector jobs in Britain.

“I don’t think we can think of any jobs losses that are the direct result of carbon policy,” Ms Duggan said.

Ms Duggan not only headed Britain’s work on international emissions trading and linking but has advised other governments on the European experience. She pointed to some design flaws in Europe’s initial emissions scheme.

She is expected to share her insights with federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet in a telephone hook-up today.

The European Union’s emissions trading scheme began in 2005, but a year later pollution permit prices collapsed because of over allocation.

“It demonstrated very clearly to politicians and industry that the target could be set tougher,” Ms Duggan said.

“The hardest thing to get into a trading system at the beginning is demand, because nobody wants to sell into a system, nobody wants to buy out of it.”

The first phase with a lower carbon price ran until 2008.

From 2013, 50 per cent of permits to be auctioned will be for the power sector.

Other sectors will continue to have free allocations, but they will have to comply with tougher emission-reduction standards based on the average of the 10 per cent most efficient players in any sector.

The EU’s ETS aims to reduce emissions by 21 per cent on 2005 levels by 2020.

Federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott, a member of the government’s multi-party climate change committee, is also expected to speak to Ms Duggan, along with Oliver Woldring, a climate change adviser from the Australian Greens.

It is understood independent MP Tony Windsor was unable to find time for Ms Duggan.

The Coalition’s climate action spokesman Greg Hunt and Nationals leader Warren Truss did not reply to an invitation.

Ms Duggan will also be speaking to the government’s key climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut.

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