Climate change raising political heat
Climate change has won a lot of converts, but also sparked a lot of argument about what should be done about it and who should be doing it. More often than not, those who will ultimately pay the cost of tackling global warming - ordinary consumers - have not had much direct say in it. Now, as a result of a sudden change of opposition leader, Australians may find themselves given a clear choice on the issue at the polls.
Centre-left Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had hopes of going to this month's Copenhagen climate summit with a prize political feather in his cap - bipartisan support for his 'cap-and-trade' scheme to meet a binding target to cut carbon emissions. That was until the divided opposition conservative party revolted and replaced a moderate leader who supported Rudd's plan with a combative social conservative who is opposed to it. Now Rudd faces defeat of the legislation in the upper house of Parliament and, sooner or later next year, a bruising re-election battle over it. He can go to the people early for a decisive mandate or wait until an election due next year.
Rudd was elected in 2007, partly on a promise to combat climate change. The main issues in any snap election, however, would be the economic costs of the emissions trading scheme and whether any measurable benefit is to be gained in the battle against global warming. Per capita, Australia is the world's biggest emitter. But there are not that many Australians and the scheme would have made little difference globally, raising questions about the cost.
New opposition leader Tony Abbot describes it as a A$120 billion (HK$840 billion) tax on Australian consumers. Little wonder that business is divided, with industry opposing it as a new tax but banks and fund managers hailing a bonanza for traders and investors.
Abbot says he is looking forward to fighting an election on the scheme, despite Rudd's big lead in the polls. The conservatives, the party of business, can be expected to focus on the impact on the cost of living of Rudd's 'new tax'. It will be a test of public sentiment closely watched by sceptics and believers alike, especially in the United States, which remains deeply divided over global warming.