Australia Carbon Tax Repeal Comes As New Research Blames Climate Change For Long-Term Drought

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers his keynote speech during the B20 Summit in Sydney, July 17, 2014. Abbott backed a carbon tax repeal by Australia's parliament earlier this week. Reuters/Lisa Maree Williams

Australia is already feeling the effects of man-made climate change, new research confirms, but the country is quickly losing the political will to fight back.

The parliament, under a conservative coalition elected last year, this week repealed a two-year-old tax on carbon dioxide emissions – the country’s only legislated policy for reducing global warming pollution. Yet climate scientists say those very emissions are largely to blame for a decades-long drought.

New model simulations indicate that the long-term decline in winter rainfall over parts of southern Australia – especially the southwest, including the city of Perth – is in part the result of human-caused increases in greenhouse gases and the depletion of the ozone layer, according to research published July 13 in the journal Nature Geoscience. The model projects that winter rainfall will continue to drop this century “with significant implications for regional water resources,” the researchers wrote. (Scroll down for detailed model projections.)

Australia’s carbon tax by itself wouldn’t have been enough to help reverse the global climate change behind the country’s drought. But the dismantling of its carbon policy signals a disturbing trend for broader attempts to reduce emissions worldwide. The country’s participation in United Nations-led climate talks is considered crucial for establishing a worldwide emissions-limiting pact by 2015, Bloomberg News reported.

“Australia is bereft of a credible climate policy just as the international community focuses on deeper reduction targets,” John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute in Sydney, told Bloomberg. He called the move an “historic act of irresponsibility and recklessness.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who took office last September, made repealing the carbon tax passed by the previous Labor government a central priority of his campaign. He argued that the policy was inflating electricity prices and hampering Australian’s economy; in the past he has called climate science “absolute crap.” This week, he said he had kept his pledge to the Australian people by scrapping the “useless, destructive carbon tax,” BBC News said.

Australia’s mining industry cheered the decision, saying the lifting of the tax would help resource companies compete internationally. Australia is one of the top 10 coal-producing countries and is aggressively expanding its production and exports of liquefied natural gas -- both producers of carbon dioxide emissions that are rapidly changing the Earth's climate. 

Environmentalists and carbon tax supporters, meanwhile, blasted the reversal. “History will judge Tony Abbott harshly for his denial of global warming and his undermining of Australia’s effort to address it,” Christine Milne, a senator and leader of Australia’s Greens party, said, the New York Times reported.

Australia Climate Change Drought Projections Changes in Fall-Winter precipitation over Australia from observations (top panel), a model simulation of the past century (middle panel), and a model projection for the middle of the 21st century (bottom panel). The simulations support the idea that human activity has contributed to the observed drying in southwestern Australia, and that this drying trend will amplify and expand in the 21st century.  Nature Geoscience

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