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Australia passes landmark carbon legislation. Who's next?

Australia's government this week approved the world's most comprehensive legislation so far regarding global greenhouse gas emissions, including a new tax on carbon emissions.

From Reuters:

"Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land. This comes after a quarter of a century of scientific warnings, 37 parliamentary inquiries, and years of bitter debate and division," Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

Australia has spent more than a decade debating the issue, which was instrumental in the 2007 fall of former conservative Prime Minister John Howard and Labor's Kevin Rudd in 2010.

The carbon tax is part of a series of new environmental laws approved by both houses of Australia's government, including the establishment of a Climate Change Authority, and the creation of a Green Fund to spur investments in the renewable energy sector. The bill's passage was a significant achievement for Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Though it only produces a small percentage of the world's carbon output, Australia's heavy industry has made the country one of the highest per capita pollution emitters.  

With the new law, Australia now joins a club of countries including Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden where some form of carbon legislation on the books. The Australian law has a much wider scope and will have a broader impact on the country than the carbon taxes passed elsewhere.  Some local areas such as Quebec in Canada and San Francisco, California have also issued their forms of local carbon taxes. The European Union does have the emissions trading system (ETS), but its implementation has been sharply criticized because of the weak authority given to its regulators.

Some emerging market countries have also proposed legislation towards reducing pollution. Last year, India passed the first levy on coal producers, which was set to raise over $535 million. China and South Korea have also proposed some types of carbon taxes, but many of the details behind have been left up in the air. Last year, the United States attempted a deal on carbon trading legislation, but was scuttled due to political pressures within Congress.

Governments will try once again to reach a broader, more comprehensive deal at the COP-17 talks that are beginning at the end of November in Durban, South Africa.

Ian Waldie/Getty Images

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