Why Barack Obama should be watching Australia’s carbon

Might a parliamentary delay in Australia’s carbon emissions regulation plan presage the American experience?

Lacking the political backing to implement the world’s most sweeping cap-and-trade scheme outside Europe, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the regime would be delayed until mid-2011, but he still aimed to push laws through parliament this year.


“Starting slower because of the global economic recession and finishing stronger, with the prospect of a bigger outcome for greenhouse gas reductions… we believe gets the balance right,” Rudd told reporters.

Rudd’s assessment makes sense, but it’s nonetheless troubling — tighter emissions standards will never be more popular with industry, recession or not. Kicking the can down the road in hopes of doubling down later seems viable only inasmuch as the plan is actually able to be followed through on.

Potentially even more discouraging for the U.S. case, though, is the fact that Australia’s emissions reduction plan was already far more ambitious than the United States’ at the outset, so a parallel weakening, in a larger emitter, would arguably be more damaging to global efforts. The U.S. Congress, too, might be more hostile to stringent regulations than the Australian parliament. And, of course, there’s no American Green Party pushing hard against opponents of tough legislation.

(image of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd)