CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Australia's controversial carbon-pricing legislation was narrowly passed by its House of Representatives and is expected to pass when it goes to the Senate next month.
The tax, to start next July, would force the country's 500 biggest polluters to pay $24 for each ton of carbon they emit. In 2015 it converts to an emissions trading scheme with a floating price starting at a floor of $15.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who pledged during last year's federal election not to introduce a carbon tax, told Wednesday's parliamentary session, "History will record that a clean energy future started with this vote today." The bill passed on a 74-72 vote.
The Australian government claims the plan will cut 159 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2020. As the world's largest per-capita carbon polluter, with an economy largely dependent on coal, Australia produced 577 million tons of carbon emissions in 2010, Department of Climate Change figures indicate.
Australia would join the ranks of the European Union and New Zealand in having national emissions trading schemes, which exist on regional levels in the United States and Japan.
Christine Milne, deputy leader of the Australian Greens, said that once the legislation passes the Senate next month, Australia's decision to put a price on pollution and invest in renewable energy will "make a big impact" at the United Nations-sponsored global climate summit in South Africa in December.
"Global climate negotiations need a shot of optimism and what we have achieved here in Australia can deliver that and help build momentum toward an ambitious, science-based climate treaty in the years ahead."
Australia aims to cut the country's emissions by 5 percent from year 2000 levels by 2020, and bring emissions down 80 percent by 2050.
The tax has been fiercely opposed by the resource sector and industry, manufacturing and business lobby groups.
The Australian Coal Association, representing Australia's producers of black coal, the country's largest commodity export, says the tax could force the premature closure of 17 percent of black coal mines.
"The carbon tax will undermine the competitiveness of Australian coal mines with no reduction in the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions from coal mining," said ACA Chairman John Pegler.
"This is because no other country in the world includes coal mining (or fugitive) emissions in their carbon tax or emission trading schemes."
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, calling the passage "a black day for Australian democracy" promised to work to repeal the tax.