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October 12 News: Australian Carbon Tax “All But Assured of Passage,” Opposition Makes “Pledge in Blood” to Repeal

Other Big Stories Below: Pakistan Floods Show Asia’s Vulnerability to Climate Change; Insiders Say Obama Will OK Keystone Pipeline Soon; China’s Wind Market to Reach 158 GW by 2016

PM Julia Gillard and Former PM Kevin Rudd.

Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

The Australian government’s goal of implementing a carbon tax passed its toughest test today as the lower house of Parliament overwhelmingly approved a package of bills that institutes a phased-in carbon tax, to be followed by a carbon-trading system.The 18 bills now go to the Senate, where the law is all but assured of passage in mid-November.

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According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the system will reduce Australia’s carbon emissions by 159 million tons by 2020. Australia is the largest per-capita carbon polluter, with an economy deeply dependent on coal.

The first phase of the law will tax carbon at $22.90 a ton beginning in the middle of next year. The surcharge will rise modestly until mid-2015, when the carbon-trading system will take effect. Other bills call for a national emissions caps, exempting farming and other agricultural sectors.

The tax will not extend to the price of gas for consumers, although rail, shipping and large trucking businesses will pay the tax indirectly on fuels such as diesel.

Australia’s biggest carbon emitters — power companies, mining companies and industrial manufacturers — immediately attacked the legislation, and the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, vowed a “pledge in blood” to repeal the law should he become prime minister.

The Australian law would go well beyond what the California Air Resources Board is considering. The board voted in August to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan, which put the nation’s first state carbon-trading program back on track.

JR: Some good political analysis here:Tony Abbott will have to stomach more carbon in his political diet

TONY Abbott may have made a “pledge in blood” to repeal the carbon laws passed yesterday but it is a promise that he will struggle to uphold in the face of significant barriers.He may be hoping to make these changes history but instead they threaten to be historic, regardless of personal views about carbon pricing and global warming.

With only half of the Senate up for re-election in two years, the odds of the upper house agreeing to reverse the tax this side of 2015 seem remote.

And by then the tax will be integrated into a world emissions trading system and businesses and householders alike will all be accustomed to paying for carbon emissions.

That means that the current partial business opposition to the tax which later morphs into an emissions trading scheme could melt away, particularly if the impact is smaller than the most vocal critics fear and is masked by more significant pricing factors such as swings in the Australian dollar.

That has been the experience in New Zealand, which, unlike Australia, applied its carbon tax to petrol, with the carbon price changes quickly becoming secondary to movements in the currency and oil prices.

Pakistan Floods Show Asia’s Vulnerability to Climate Change

It is more than a year since the devastating July and August 2010 floods in Pakistan that affected about 20 million people and killed an estimated 2,000. Many believe that the disaster was partially fuelled by global warming, and that there is a real danger that Pakistan, and the Indian subcontinent in general, could become the focus of much more regular catastrophic flooding.

Indeed, right now Pakistan is again experiencing massive flooding. The UN asserts that, already, more than 5.5 million people have been affected and almost 4300 are officially reported dead, 100 of them children.

Last year’s calamity, in particular, highlights the vulnerability of much of Asia to climate change, and has helped elevate this into one of the most important and pressing political and social issues in the region. Indeed, an increasingly prevailing view is that the impact of climate change could be worse in the region than all previous social, health and conflict disasters of the past.

Insiders: Obama Will Approve Keystone XL Pipeline This Year

Despite intense lobbying from environmentalists and opposition from many in President Obama’s own party, virtually all National Journal Energy and Environment Insiders say that Obama’s State Department will approve a controversial 1,700-mile pipeline project to bring carbon-heavy tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Environmental groups have been working in Congress and the courts to delay or block a decision, citing environmental concerns and, more recently, questions about the impartiality of some State Department officials.

But more than 70 percent of Insiders said they think the State Department will approve the Keystone XL project by year’s end. Another 21 percent said the administration would approve the project eventually, just not by the end of this year. Only 9 percent of those responding think the project will not get final administration approval. Because the project crosses international boundaries, the State Department is tasked with determining whether building the pipeline is in the national interest.

China’s Wind Market to Reach 158 GW by 2016

China outpaced the US and emerged as the biggest market for wind power capacity in 2010. China has approximately 44.7 GW of installed wind farm capacity and intends to reach 230 GW by 2020.

Various factors are expected to drive the wind epower market in China. Government backing and generation-based incentives for renewable energy sources, rising electricity demand, and Clean Development Mechanism support from the UN all are expected to boost China’s wind market.

China outpaced the US and emerged as the biggest market for wind power capacity in 2010. China has approximately 44.7 GW of installed wind farm capacity and intends to reach 230 GW by 2020.

Wind turbine blades are mostly made of composites because of the excellent mechanical properties and ease of designing. Composites consumption in the Chinese wind market was approximately 488 million pounds in 2010. Lucintel estimates that composites consumption is will reach 542 million pounds by 2016.

Report: Mercury levels mostly down in Great Lakes

A newly released report says mercury levels in the Great Lakes region generally have dropped over the past four decades, although concentrations in some fish and bird species have increased more recently.

The report was being released Tuesday at a news conference in Detroit. It sums up the findings of 35 recently completed scientific papers.

Scientists credit reduced air emissions in the Great Lakes region and nationwide for the drop in mercury levels in the lakes.

The report comes about a month before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release tougher rules for emissions from coal-fired power plants, a leading source of mercury.

But despite the drop-off, the report says mercury pollution exceed thresholds for posing health risks to humans and the environment in many areas, especially inland waterways.