Australia may be the rich state with the most to lose from climate change, in the near- and medium-term. Almost all of the country is already either unsuitable or marginal for agriculture. They have major problems with erosion, invasive species, drought, and salinization. They are also one of the rich countries closest to low-lying poorer states, where climate change could induce a surge of migration.
Nonetheless, the Australian Senate seems likely to defeat the Rudd government’s attempt to introduce a carbon trading scheme. The principle grounds of opposition seems to be an unwillingness to act before others do. This is in spite of the fact that the plan calls for emissions-intensive and trade-exposed industries like steel and aluminum production to be given 95% of their permits for free. Barnaby Joyce, the leader of Australia’s National Party, has expressed his desire to delay climate change regulation for as long as possible, probably in ignorance of the fact that all states behaving likewise would threaten the long-term viability of Australia as a self-sustaining society.
This suicide pact mentality is especially inappropriate coming from a state as vulnerable as Australia, which could become almost entirely agriculturally non-viable with a multi-degree increase in mean temperatures. If anybody should be willing to step out a bit ahead of the pack, it should be a highly rich and highly vulnerable state, with excellent renewable energy opportunities. The fact that even politicians in this drought-stricken state don’t have the foresight to embrace carbon pricing speaks ill of the intelligence of politicians, as well as raises doubts about whether any society is going to be able to act effectively in time to avoid catastrophic climate change.