Australia on Sunday introduced a controversial tax on carbon emissions in a bid to combat climate change. Critics of the tax say it will stifle industry and increase the cost of living.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the introduction of the tax, calling it "pivotal to Australia's future."
"Today is a Sunday where Australians will go about their ordinary lives, but today is a day too when we seize the future, we seize a clean energy future," Gillard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The government hopes the scheme will reduce Australia's carbon pollution to at least 159 million tonnes less than it would be otherwise, comparing the result with that of taking 45 million cars off the road.
The country's biggest polluters will have to pay 23 Australian dollars (16.6 euros/$23.5) per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, more than twice the cost of carbon pollution in the European Union. The plan is to start with a fixed price, then move after three years to a market-based emissions trading scheme similar to that adopted by the EU.
Australia is currently one of the world's worst per capita polluters owing to its reliance on coal-fired power plants.
The tax on corporate pollution led to demonstrations across the country when it was announced, especially in view of the fact that ahead of the 2010 election Gillard was to win, she had pledged not to introduce a carbon tax if she became prime minister.
A poll by the Lowy Institute think-tank found 63 percent of voters are against the carbon scheme.
It has also been bitterly opposed by the conservative opposition, which says it will cost jobs and hurt the economy. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has vowed to repeal the carbon tax if he wins power in elections due by late new year "to help families".
The tax comes into effect on the same day as an equally controversial levy on mining profits that helped topple former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
tj/msh (AFP, Reuters)