Friday, May 28, 2010

Our greenhouse emissions back on the rise

The Age, May 28, 2010
    Australia's greenhouse gas emissions have started creeping up again after a dip caused by the global financial crisis, a trend that would see the nation overshoot its Copenhagen Accord commitment by a large margin.
    Emissions fell last year by 2.4 per cent on 2008 levels as steel and aluminium production was hit by the financial crisis, but began rising again in the last few months of the year.
    The country generated an estimated 537 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2009, the largest amount per person of any developed country, three-quarters of which came from the energy sector.
    The federal government said yesterday that Australia remains on track to meet its emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol.
    But that target allows for an increase of 8 per cent on its 1990 level - an unusual allowance which means that, so far, the nation has had to do less work on reducing carbon dioxide output than most other countries.
    A significant reduction in land clearing, particularly in Queensland, has allowed Australia to meet the Kyoto goal.
    ''We know that a price on carbon will be necessary to meet our targets and to reverse the climbing trend of emissions growth,''' the Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, said in a statement. ''We remain committed to the carbon pollution reduction scheme as the most effective and cheapest way of meeting our targets.''
    The government recently postponed its scheme until 2013 at the earliest after failing to get it through the Senate.
    The head of the Department of Climate Change, Martin Parkinson, told a Senate estimates committee hearing yesterday that either an emissions trading scheme, which would require heavy polluters to pay for each tonne of greenhouse gas they release, or some form of carbon tax was essential to bring emissions under control.
    ''If you're asking the question, can Australia meet even its 5 per cent target without the introduction of a carbon price, the answer is no,'' Dr Parkinson said.
    Australia has pledged to cut its emissions by between 5 and 25 per cent over the next 10 years, with the minimum target endorsed by both major parties. In theory, Australia could meet a large portion of its target by buying carbon offsets overseas, but this would be costly and would transfer the cost of actually cutting Australian emissions to a later date, when it is likely to be more expensive. ''The longer you delay, the more international units you have to purchase, or the higher the domestic cost,'' Dr Parkinson said.
    The national emissions report shows that Australia's economic strength is still tightly shackled to ever-rising greenhouse gas emissions, because most of the country's energy is produced by burning coal.
    About 37 per cent of the country's total emissions came from power stations, although a slight shift in the use of gas instead of coal as a fuel meant the trajectory of rising emissions has levelled off a little.
    ''Our economy currently relies on a polluting foundation and without policies to make polluting companies responsible for the damage they cause, and to make clean energy cheaper, Australia will continue to fall behind other countries that are building low pollution economies,'' said Erwin Jackson, the deputy chief executive of The Climate Institute.
    Green groups said that with the postponement of the emissions trading scheme, neither of the major political parties had a plan to reverse the rising trajectory of emissions.
    ''We all know what we've got to do but at the moment we don't seem to have the political will to do it,'' said the executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry.
    ''We urgently need to put a price on carbon.''

    Sunday, May 23, 2010

    Underwater lab the first to plot impact of climate change on reefs

    The Age, May 24, 2010
    ON AN idyllic coral atoll just a two-hour boat ride from Queensland's Gladstone Harbour, out past the endless line of tankers queued to load coal for export, a half-dozen scientists work frantically against the tide.
    Their objective? To explore the consequences of rising atmospheric carbon - which evidence overwhelmingly attributes to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels - on the delicate chemistry of the reef and the creatures living there.
    The project team, led by David Kline, a young scientist from the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute, is completing tests on a new underwater laboratory that will expose living corals on the Great Barrier Reef to the more acidic conditions forecast for oceans by the end of the century.
    The team has spent weeks working around the ebb and flow of tides, connecting four narrow, two-metre transparent chambers peggedover the reef shelf to the complex technology required to manage and monitor them. Small fish and currents move naturally through the porous structures, two of which will be constantly dosed with seawater flushed with carbon dioxide to lower the pH.
    ''This system here is the heart of the experiment,'' Dr Kline explains to a film crew from the BBC natural history unit as he stands in the shallows, patting his hand on a floating platform loaded with pumps, cables and 50 instruments, all in constant conversation with ''the brains'' - a computer program running in a laboratory a few metres away on shore.
    International interest is high because this is the first in situ investigation of its type. Findings from the Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment (FOCE) project will be keenly studied by scientists around the world.
    Fathoming the effects of ocean acidification - the ''other'' carbon problem, one that emerged in scientific literature only a decade ago - has become one of the most urgent issues on the science agenda. The potentially diabolical consequences were highlighted in major briefing papers presented last week by the United States National Research Council to the US Congress and by the European Science Foundation to national leaders. The papers appealed to governments to give the issue priority for investigation and action.
    ''The chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate and magnitude due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions,'' the NRC has said. ''The rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred for at least the past hundreds of thousands of years.''
    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in naturally alkaline seawater, forming weak carbonic acid. Studies show the world's oceans have a huge appetite for carbon, and have insulated humanity from greenhouse warming by gulping in about one-third of the emissions pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
    But the process lowers the overall pH of seawater - by about 30 per cent over the past 200 years. It also soaks up carbonate ions, which are crucial to marine organisms making their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.
    The Heron Island experiment assumes a future with seawater twice as acidic as today, a more conservative take than published business-as-usual scenarios, which put the increase at 150 per cent by 2100. The question scientists are racing to answer is what a more acidic environment will mean for the tiny shelled zooplankton on which the marine food chain depends, and for the skeletons corals build into reefs.
    The fear, explains the director of the Global Change Institute and head of the Australian Research Council-funded research team, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, is that the change hits these creatures on two fronts - creating a more corrosive environment, and depleting stocks of building materials. ''If these organisms can't compensate for that … reef growth will slow until the reef superstructure begins to crumble. If coral populations disappear you put at risk about a million or so species, and all of the beautiful benefits to humans such as fisheries, coastal protection, tourist industries and so on.''
    Meanwhile, he says, reefs are struggling with the effects of rising temperatures, which can trigger bleaching - when the stressed coral hosts expel the microscopic algae on which they rely for survival. He likens simultaneous bleaching and acidification to ''having two rhinos run at you from different directions''. Maybe by some miracle you will escape, but the odds are not good.
    ''Ocean acidification is already occurring and will get worse,'' said Professor Jelle Bijma, lead author of the European Science Foundation document, when it was presented last week. Combined with warming, ''we are in double trouble. The combination of the two may be the most critical environmental and economic challenge of the century''.
    Dr Kline says some of his corals will be airbrushed to mimic bleaching, to see how damaged structures respond to the more acid environment. This will provide clues on whether reef atolls will continue to provide a platform for new communities to grow - ''or is the balance going to shift … are these massive reef structures going to end up dissolving?''
    To date, exploration of these questions has been limited to laboratory aquaria. ''But seeing how they behave in the natural world is vital to gaining a reliable sense of where the future lies,'' says Dr Kline. Ecosystems may turn out to be more resilient - or less - than the models show. ''Here in the world, the corals are surrounded by their natural community - you have natural water, natural light,'' he explains, making final adjustments to the chambers.
    They rest on layers of sands that have their own complex chemistry of carbonates and biota, which may help corals cope with a more acidic future.
    ''I'm hoping that these environments have some ability to buffer the impact of ocean acidification, and thereby part of the biodiversity of islands and coral reefs would be preserved,'' says Dr Hoegh-Guldberg. ''But its 50:50. I actually think that what we are seeing in the laboratory is repeated in nature.''
    The Queensland coalmines may be just over the horizon, but ''this is a big fat canary'', he says of the reef.
    ''Something as complex and broad a feature as coral reefs is now sickening and dying … This is really giving us a warning sign that maybe the whole basis of our dependence on this planet, the biological and ecological services, will change.''

    UN says case for saving species 'more powerful than climate change'

    Goods and services from the natural world should be factored into the global economic system, says UN biodiversity report 

    Juliette Jowit, Friday 21 May 2010

    The economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world is even more powerful than the argument for tackling climate change, a major report for the United Nations will declare this summer.

    The Stern report on climate change, which was prepared for the UK Treasury and published in 2007, famously claimed that the cost of limiting climate change would be around 1%-2% of annual global wealth, but the longer-term economic benefits would be 5-20 times that figure.

    The UN's biodiversity report – dubbed the Stern for Nature – is expected to say that the value of saving "natural goods and services", such as pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be even higher – between 10 and 100 times the cost of saving the habitats and species which provide them.

    To mark the UN's International Day for Biological Diversity tomorrow, hundreds of British companies, charities and other organisations have backed an open letter from the Natural History Museum's director Michael Dixon warning that "the diversity of life, so crucial to our security, health, wealth and wellbeing is being eroded".

    The UN report's authors go further with their warning on biodiversity, by saying if the goods and services provided by the natural world are not valued and factored into the global economic system, the environment will become more fragile and less resilient to shocks, risking human lives, livelihoods and the global economy.

    "We need a sea-change in human thinking and attitudes towards nature: not as something to be vanquished, conquered, but rather something to be cherished and lived within," said the report's author, the economist Pavan Sukhdev.

    The changes will involve a wholesale revolution in the way humans do business, consume, and think about their lives, Sukhdev, told The Guardian. He referred to the damage currently being inflicted on the natural world as "a landscape of market failures".

    The report will advocate massive changes to the way the global economy is run so that it factors in the value of the natural world. In future, it says, communities should be paid for conserving nature rather than using it; companies given stricter limits on what they can take from the environment and fined or taxed more to limit over-exploitation; subsidies worth more than US$1tn (£696.5bn) a year for industries like agriculture, fisheries, energy and transport reformed; and businesses and national governments asked to publish accounts for their use of natural and human capital alongside their financial results.

    And the potential economic benefits are huge. Setting up and running a comprehensive network of protected areas would cost $45bn a year globally, according to one estimate, but the benefits of preserving the species richness within these zones would be worth $4-5tn a year.

    The report follows a series of recent studies showing that the world is in the grip of a mass extinction event as pollution, climate change, development and hunting destroys habitats of all types, from rainforests and wetlands to coastal mangroves and open heathland. However, only two of the world's 100 biggest companies believe reducing biodiversity is a strategic threat to their business, according to another report released tomorrow by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is advising the team compiling the UN report.

    "Sometimes people describe Earth's economy as a spaceship economy because we are basically isolated, we do have limits to how much we can extract, and why and where," said Sukhdev, who visited the UK WHEN as a guest of science research and education charity, theEarthwatch Institute..

    The TEEB report shows that on average one third of Earth's habitats have been damaged by humans – but the problem ranges from zero percent of ice, rock and polar lands to 85% of seas and oceans and more than 70% of Mediterranean shrubland. It also warns that in spite of growing awareness of the dangers, destruction of nature will "still continue on a large scale". The International Union for the Conservationof Nature has previously estimated that species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than it would naturally be without humans.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Offshore green energy could make UK net exporter by 2050

    Study claims UK offshore wind, wave and tidal energy could turn the country into a net exporter of energy once more

    Jessica Shankleman for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 19 May 2010

    The first study to put a financial value on the UK's offshore renewableenergy resource has concluded that the nascent sector could transform the country from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter by 2050.

    The report, which was commissioned by a coalition of government and industry organisations known as the Offshore Valuation Group, argues that the creation of a North Sea supergrid would allow the UK to export energy generated by offshore wind farms and marine energy systems to the rest of Northern Europe.

    The study sets out three scenarios for the next 40 years, with the most ambitious course of action resulting in an average of 13.1GW of wind, wave or tidal energy being installed each year up to 2050.

    It argues that such a rapid build out of renewable energy capacity would create profit of £24bn for the UK supply chain and create direct employment for about 340,000 people. It also predicts that the resulting wind and marine energy farms would produce energy equivalent to 2.6 billion barrels of oil a year by 2050 – more than double the output from North Sea oil fields during the peak year of production.

    "While ambitious, this scenario is not without precedent; between 1994 and 2004 the UK was a net producer of fossil fuel energy," says the study, entitled The Offshore Valuation.

    In another highly ambitious move, the report argues offshore renewables could generate electricity equivalent to one billion barrels of oil annually by 2050 through the installation of 169GW of capacity. That scenario would create 145,000 new jobs in the UK and provide the Treasury with £28bn in tax revenue annually, according to the report.

    The scenarios set out in the report are hugely ambitious given that current plans for a new generation of offshore wind farms represent the largest build out of offshore wind farms anywhere in the world, but would still only add about 30GW of new capacity by 2020.

    However, the report's authors said the study highlights the huge potential for the UK's offshore wind industry if a North Sea super grid is developed, adding that the new government should move to ensure that the next wave of offshore wind farms is compatible with a European supergrid.

    "This study is not designed as a predictor of the future. Our vision, while exciting, is not the only way forward," said Offshore Valuation Group chairman Tim Helweg-Larsen. "We have set out to describe the potential value of the UK's offshore renewable resource without trying to predict the future, nor to propose prescriptive recommendations."

    Record heat recorded for Africa's greatest lake

    By Daniel Howden in Nairobi

    The Independent, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

    Africa's deepest lake is warming at an "unprecedented" rate thanks to man-made climate change, scientists have warned. Lake Tanganyika, which stretches from Burundi and DR Congo on its northern shores to southern Tanzania and Zambia, is the second largest lake in the world by volume.

    The 420-mile-long finger of water in south-central Africa is now warmer than at any point in the last 1,500 years, according to research published in the journal Nature Geoscience, and the consequences could be dire for the 10 million people who live around it and depend on its fisheries.

    "Our records indicate that changes in the temperature of Lake Tanganyika in the past few decades exceed previous natural variability," the paper found. "We conclude that these unprecedented temperatures and a corresponding decrease in productivity can be attributed to anthropogenic global warming."

    Geologists from Rhode Island's Brown University and the University of Arizona took samples from the lake floor. By carbon dating these "lake cores", taken from depths of up 4,700 feet, and testing fossilised micro-organisms, they were able to create an accurate picture of temperature changes since AD500.

    What they found was a gradual warming that accelerated alarmingly in recent decades as heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have driven global climate change. The scientists were also able for the first time to link the warming to lower productivity in the lake, concluding that higher temperatures were killing life. The study found that the warmer the surface of the lake has become, the harder it is for cold currents to rise from the bottom and penetrate and recharge warmer layers.

    A less productive lake means fewer fish and therefore less food and income in one of the poorest regions on earth. "The people throughout south-central Africa depend on the fish from Lake Tanganyika as a crucial source of protein," said Andrew Cohen, professor of geological sciences at the University of Arizona. "This resource is likely threatened by the lake's unprecedented warming since the late 19th century and the associated loss of lake productivity."

    The surface temperature of the lake has risen by two degrees in the last 90 years to 26C, while the levels of algae that indicate the productivity of the lake have dropped.

    The vast body of water, which at some points is more than 45 miles across, produces some 200,000 tonnes of fish annually, mainly sardines. It is also the region's main source of freshwater.

    While scientists have previously focused on the Earth's atmosphere to understand the extent and consequences of climate change, they are increasingly looking to its lakes and seas, which absorb tremendous amounts of heat.

    Jessica Tierney, from Brown University and the lead scientist on the paper, said: "We're showing that the trend of warming that we've seen is also affecting these remote places in the tropics in a very severe way."

    The Great Lakes region of Africa – Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika – were formed after Eurasia and Africa collided some 25 million years ago, creating the Great Rift Valley stretching from Syria to Mozambique.

    Officials from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) in Nairobi, Kenya, have warned that Tanganyika is not alone among Africa's Great Lakes in being threatened by climate change. Lake Victoria, the continent's largest by surface area but shallow in comparison with Tanganyika, has registered record temperature rises since the 1960s, which have added further stress to an ecosystem already under attack from human waste, agricultural run-off and invasive species.

    With the fastest-growing population of any lake basin in the world, Victoria is offering what some scientists are calling "an accelerated preview of the great environmental challenges" of the coming century. More than 30 million people already live around "Victoria Nyanza", as it is known in Kenya, and that figure is projected to double by 2025, according to Unep.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Greenies and business unite on climate action

    The Age, May 19, 2010
    BUSINESSES are planning an unlikely alliance with the Australian Conservation Foundation to prod the nation's leaders into fundamental action on climate change.
    The federal government's decision to shelve its carbon emissions trading scheme has jeopardised investment worth hundreds of millions of dollars, driving some companies to plan a climate circuit-breaker.
    One plan under review is a revival of the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, which emerged four years ago when the Howard government was baulking at action.
    The roundtable was remarkable for teaming an environmental group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, with six big members of the corporate world: Westpac, the re-insurer Swiss Re, Insurance Australia Group, Origin Energy, Visy Industries and BP Australasia.
    The group's landmark report of 2006 warned of grave economic harm if Australia did not take early action on global warming - a view that '' took courage'' at the time, one of the founding members recalled this week.
    ''Between them the chief executives of these companies lobbied all the east coast premiers, the then prime minister, and the opposition leader. A lot of senior-level heavy lifting went on behind the scenes after the launch of our report, and that probably had more effect than the report itself.''
    When the Howard government reluctantly moved to adopt an emissions trading scheme, the group faded, thinking its work done.
    But the decision to delay the emissions trading scheme raised the prospect of a new alliance.
    '' We have got some early feelers out to resuscitate something like the roundtable,'' a key player told the Herald.
    When the emissions trading scheme was defeated in the Senate late last year - paradoxically with the support of the Greens, who wanted an even tougher scheme - coal-dependent enterprises were relieved.
    But executives looking ahead to a world of renewable energy, carbon offsets, and gas as a first step to replacing coal, were anxious. Their investment plans hung on emissions trading being around the corner. With Labor effectively wiping the issue off its electoral agenda, that prospect is no longer bankable.
    Budget papers reveal the government may not even bother with an emissions scheme after 2013 unless the international climate has shifted. ''It's a disastrous loss of momentum,'' said one industry leader.
    ''If you had to do a casebook study in how you can burn every single ally you have, the government could not have done better,'' fumed another insider.
    ''They have severely impacted on the renewables industry, the banks that supported them … the Investor Group on Climate Change, which was very strongly supportive, and people inside groups like the Business Council of Australia that tried to steer it through their organisations.''
    In the service sector the effect has been immediate. ''In the banking and finance sector they are not hiring carbon people, they are disbanding those teams,'' said David Mitchell, of carbon consultancy Energetics.
    Nathan Fabian, the chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change, told the Herald: ''We are all taking stock. We think there is a need for leading corporates, leading investors and leading academics to create a platform and deliver the right message together.''
    Several days ago the chairman of Origin Energy, Kevin McCann, let fly at a conference in New Zealand. ''I am going to lobby like hell to get it back on the [political] agenda'' he said. ''The issue cannot be ignored.''
    Origin is heavily invested in gas, which would have been the halfway house to a cleaner energy sector under an emissions trading scheme. Without a scheme, Origin said, the economic drivers are not there to phase out carbon-heavy coal-fired power stations in favour of baseload gas energy generation.
    The government's strengthening of renewable energy programs will not be enough, it said.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Global warming may kill off fifth of global lizard species by 2080: study

    Reptiles that 'tolerate heat and should be well buffered against warming are the victims' as world enters 'era of climate change extinctions'

    Celia Cole, Friday 14 May 2010

    One–fifth of lizard species globally will become extinct by 2080 due to global warming, according to a study using data from more than 1,200 populations worldwide.

    The research found that more than a 10th of Mexico's Sceloporus lizard populations have been driven to extinction in the last 35 years, with the figure projected to increase to almost 40% by 2080. The scientists projected their findings globally using data from other lizard populations around the world.

    The findings come in the wake of immense criticism over the failure of world leaders to live up to a commitment to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010Professor Barry Sinervo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the study, said he believes "we have now entered the era ofclimate change extinctions".

    Although we may not be accustomed to considering lizards as important players within our ecosystems in the UK, he warns that the reptiles occupy diverse ecological roles in ecosystems across the globe and their reduced numbers will have important implications for ecosystems and maintaining species diversity. "Their loss could cause a collapse at higher levels of the food webs," he said.

    "Many people appreciate that climate warming may lead to extinction in the future," said Prof Raymond Huey an evolutionary physiologist at the University of Washington, who was not directly involved in the study. "But this paper shows that climate-induced extinction has already arrived and that more is coming. What is especially concerning is that lizards – a group of animals that tolerate heat and should be well buffered against warming – are the victims."

    Scientists made the initial discovery by distributing an electronic device across 200 sites in Mexico where the lizards were both thriving and had already gone extinct. They found that rapid warming was causing the animals to spend more time in cooler retreats, preventing them from finding food and reproducing at a level able to maintain a stable population size. The reptiles do no produce their own heat internally and so are dependent on the sun.

    When the researchers plotted the thermal biological data from the Sceloporus lizards, and more than 1,200 other populations found worldwide, against projected temperature rises they discovered that global warming will drive 39% of all global lizard populations and one fifth of all lizard species to extinction by 2080.

    A drastic cut in CO2 production which limited temperature rise might enable losses to be limited to 6% of species, the study predicts. However, given the time lag required for current levels of CO2 to decline in the atmosphere and the projected rise in temperatures that we have already observed, Sinervo believes it is unlikely that more extinctions could be avoided.

    Huey said the paper was a call to arms for scientists and policymakers. "This is a mission critical paper that sends urgent messages to two groups. First, it should prompt government officials to draft regulatory changes that may slow the growth of greenhouse gasses. Second, it sends a strong message to biologists - we need to get busy and start studying extinctions [their extent and causes] rather than just predicting future extinctions."

    Lizards find climate change too hot to handle

    The Age, May 14, 2010 - 1:45PM
      The world is warming too quickly for lizards to adapt, and 20 per cent of species could be extinct by 2080, a new study shows.
      In Australia, lizards living in the central desert areas and alpine districts are most at risk if current climate change trends continue.
      Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, a 6 per cent decline in the world's lizard populations by 2050 is almost unavoidable, an international team of scientists has concluded.
      David Chapple, of Monash University, said the cold-blooded reptiles basked in the sun to warm up, but had to seek shade when they get too hot.
      "If it is too warm for too long, and they spend too long under the shelter, they can't be out their looking for mates and finding food."
      The researchers, led by Barry Sinervo of the University of California, surveyed 48 species of lizards at 200 sites in Mexico and found that 12 per cent of local populations had become extinct since 1975.
      They then built devices to mimic the body temperature of lizards lying in the sun and placed some at at sites where the reptiles had survived and others at places where they had disappeared.
      Professor Sinervo said the results clearly showed that lizards at the extinction sites would have had very little time to forage. "They would barely have been able to emerge to bask before having to retreat."
      His team then developed a model of extinction risk due to temperature rises for different species and found this accurately predicted places where local die-offs had occurred on five continents, including Australia.
      "We thought we'd see evolution occurring in response to climate change, but instead we're seeing extinctions. Beyond a certain point, the lizards can't adapt," said Professor Sinervo, whose team's results are published in the journal Science.
      He said they were confident global warming was the culprit, rather than habitat loss. "These sites are not disturbed in any way, and most of them are in national parks or other protected areas."
      Dr Chapple, a member of the team, said the model matched population changes in the Great Desert skink and Slater's skink, which are both becoming extinct at sites around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
      He said the study also found that lizards which have live offspring, which is common among Australian alpine species, have almost double the risk of extinction.
      Lizards are important food for birds and snakes and they eat insects.

      Australia left behind by US emission trading bill

      The Age, May 13, 2010
        THE unveiling of a long-awaited US Senate bill to establish an American emissions trading scheme shows Australia is being left behind in terms of action on climate change, say environmentalists.
        The bill would establish a US emissions trading scheme to cut America's carbon emissions by 17 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.
        Details of the closely guarded bill were leaked before the announcement. Draft documents posted on US websites yesterday showing the bill would set a minimum price of $US12 ($13.40) and a maximum price of $US25 a tonne of carbon in the first year of the scheme in 2013.
        The price floor and ceiling on carbon would then rise 3 and 5 per cent above inflation every year, respectively. The carbon price, which includes power plants and industry from 2016, makes the US scheme similar in part to Australia's now shelved emissions trading scheme.
        The US bill would also expand offshore oil drilling, give incentives for the expansion of nuclear and renewable energy, and return two-thirds of money generated by the scheme to consumers as compensation for price rises.
        A border tariff that taxes imports from countries that have not established a carbon price, including Australia, would also be established. The proposal faces a tough challenge passing Congress. Most Republicans oppose the bill.
        The Australian environment movement said the bill highlighted a stark contrast between the progress made in the rest of world on climate change and the Rudd government's decision to shelve its plans for an emissions trading scheme until at least 2013.
        Erwin Jackson, the deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute, said it highlighted that Australia was ''the first developed country to backtrack on climate change action''.
        A spokeswoman for the Climate Minister, Senator Penny Wong, said: ''Provided there is sufficient progress internationally, especially from China, India and the US, the government expects to legislate the [scheme] in 2013.''