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Repeal of carbon tax shames our nation

The overwhelming majority of the world's climate scientists concur: the emission of greenhouse gasses as a result of human activity is contributing to a rise in temperate and to the resulting climate change that poses nothing short of an existential threat. So this newspaper has consistently advocated for our governments to act decisively on behalf of future generations to combat global warming. Economists the world over agree the most effective way to reduce the danger is to put a price on carbon emissions. We are appalled, then, that the Coalition has repealed the carbon tax, which was a transitional step towards an emissions trading scheme the like of which is working in Europe and elsewhere.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott claims to accept the science, and indeed has a policy to cut emissions. It's called Direct Action, but is better thought of as limp inaction, for it is essentially a scheme to plant tress and spend about $2.5 billion paying selected businesses to reduce pollution. Incidentally, that is significantly less than the cost of the tax Mr Abbott, a man who claims to be against new and/or higher taxes, wants to levy on business to pay for his excessively generous paid parental leave scheme. Direct Action is unlikely to go anywhere near reducing emissions to the bipartisan target of a minimum of 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.

Australia, the nation with the highest level of emissions per capita, is now left in a lamentable limbo; not only has the price on carbon been removed, the first time a government has wound back action on climate change, yet even the Direct Action plan has been stymied by the Palmer United Party, led by a man with a massive and direct interest in coal mining. The Coalition has regressed astonishingly; Mr Abbott's political hero and mentor, former prime minister John Howard, took an emissions trading scheme to the 2007 election.

The Age applauds Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's statement that he and the ALP continue to support an emissions trading scheme. This sets up a stark choice at the next federal election: climate change policy will be a central battle, and Mr Shorten has recognised that the world is moving in the opposite direction to that Mr Abbott has now shamefully taken our nation. We believe Mr Abbott will utterly rue the day he adopted his simplistic ''axe the tax'' mantra, let alone the day he actually delivered it in a deal with Clive Palmer.

Mr Abbott's claim, made on Thursday when the carbon tax was abolished, that he is a ''conservationist'' appears disingenuous. He also said: ''We are a government which absolutely appreciates that we have only got one planet and we should pass it on to our children and grandchildren in at least as good shape as we found it.'' This noble and compelling sentiment, though, is not reflected in what the Prime Minister has done.

The Age considers it likely that a future leader, Liberal or ALP, will rejoin the global climate community and reverse Mr Abbott's recklessness. Meanwhile, there is another reason to be optimistic: progress is coming not from public policy, but from the public, which is acting with enlightened self-interest and economic rationality. Emissions from power generation have fallen by about 15 per cent in the past four years, during which time big industrial companies have cut energy consumption by the equivalent of that used by more than 800,000 households in a year. One million homes, or one in 10, have solar panels. Over the past decade, electricity generation by renewable sources has risen by two-thirds, while new offices use about a third less energy. The community is leading the lawmakers by taking widespread, real direct action on climate change.