Australia delays environmental policy

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. You could say it's one step forward and one step back on climate change today. Up north, Canada has pledged to phase out traditional coal-fired power plants, which are the main source of greenhouse gas pollution � or a main source anyway. We're going to hear more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, down under in Australia, an ambitious new emissions reduction plan is being delayed because of the recession. The Australian plan is one of the world's most ambitious carbon trading schemes. It would require hundreds of big polluters to buy permits to release greenhouse gases, and the pollution levels would slowly ratchet down over time. But the BBC's Phil Mercer, in Sydney, says the plan ran into criticism from all sides.

PHIL MERCER: Now, this carbon trading scheme was opposed by business groups who said that would damage the economy. And on the other side of the coin, environmental groups said that the measures weren't good enough and wouldn't actually help the environment or address the issue of climate change. So the government did have opposition from both sides of the fence, and all of this results in the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delaying the introduction of this emissions trading scheme by 12 months.

MULLINS: Well, it's interesting that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is delaying it, because he basically got into office promising a greener government in Australia.

MERCER: Absolutely right. This is a country that is one of the world's worst per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases. Recent brushfires, serious floods in Queensland and a longstanding drought really have convinced many Australians that the issue of climate change is a burning one and needs some urgent attention.

MULLINS: What is the evidence right now that by Australia being a major emitter of greenhouse gases that by delaying this plan, there will be an ill consequence to the overall worldwide move against global warming?

MERCER: I think Australia's carbon trading scheme, which would have been the broadest anywhere, was seen by environmental groups as a reasonable start and would perhaps provide a blueprint for other developed, and developing, countries for that matter once this mechanism was up and running. Now that this scheme as been delayed, there is a feeling here among green groups that perhaps the time for action is running out. And scientists have long warned that the Australian continent will be more susceptible to the effects of climate change than many other countries. And Australia was in many ways being seen as a test case � that if this country could get a carbon trading scheme up and running, then similar mechanisms could be introduced elsewhere.

MULLINS: All right. And clearly that's not happening, at least not right now. The BBC's Phil Mercer, in Sydney, Australia. Thank you, Phil.

MERCER: Thank you.