Election Key to Action on Climate; Politics Closely Tied to Issue in Australia

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Byline: Benjamin Birnbaum, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Environmentalists around the world will be watching Saturday's national election results in Australia, which they say could have a global impact on efforts to combat climate change.

There is no doubt that the direction of Australia's national climate-change policy rests on the result of the election, said Kate Cecys, international fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Recent polls show a close contest between the ruling Labor Party and the opposition coalition led by the Liberal Party.

Ms. Cecys noted that both parties have called for a national minimum reduction of greenhouse gases of 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and for action on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

But the primary distinction relates to putting a price tag on carbon pollution, she said. Labor supports such an approach beginning in 2013, while the Liberals do not.

Australia's last two prime ministers have both been casualties of environmental politics:

* In December 2007, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard lost his bid for a fifth term in no small part due to his government's failure to ratify the domestically popular Kyoto Protocols.

* In June, his successor, Labor's Kevin Rudd, was toppled in a surprise intraparty coup by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard after his government abandoned its failed efforts to pass a cap-and-trade bill.

Rudd had this incredibly high approval rating - it was astronomical - and then it started to fall off, said Alan Tidwell, director of Georgetown's Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies. …