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Around the Globe, Companies, Groups Take a Swing at Climate Initiatives

Businesses continue to mount pressure on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her plan to introduce a short-term carbon tax on industrial polluters. In a Saturday interview, leadership at British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto raised concerns about the timing, and the potential to harm Australian business interests, if other “gorilla” countries do not follow suit.

Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis told The Weekend Australian that the Gillard government ought to rethink its carbon pricing policy and timing, saying it threatened the Australian economy when other leading economies appeared to be stalling on climate change action. “The question is, how and when does Australia move in the light of the disappointment of the Copenhagen conference and in light of the fact there are very few signs the big gorillas – the US and China – really are going to be moving,” the London-based Mr du Plessis said in Sydney.

Rio is the world’s third-biggest miner and is a leading supplier of coal to Asia, and according to The Australian, earned 70 per cent of its 2010 profit from Australian operations.

The remarks come on the heels of aluminum giant Alcoa’s statement to a Senate committee in Perth that it has already made substantial voluntary cuts to its carbon emissions, and the company would be at a disadvantage if it is forced to make further cuts under a carbon tax, reports the Sidney Morning Herald.

Tim McAuliffe, general manager of Alcoa’s climate strategy, told the committee that Alcoa’s current greenhouse gas emissions are 40 per cent below 1990 levels across its Australian operations. “The next lot of emission reductions for Alcoa will be very expensive because the low hanging fruit is gone,” he said. McAuliffe said there are some sectors and companies who will be able to significantly reduce their carbon emissions because unlike Alcoa they hadn’t done so in the past.

Essentially, the message from big business is that Australia can’t afford to move to a clean energy future.

It’s been just over two months since the February 24 announcement for a short-term carbon tax plan taking effect in July 2012, and applied for three to five years before a full emissions trading scheme would take effect. At the time, Gillard said, “we can’t afford not to move to a clean energy future,” reports smartcompany.au.

Recently, the Business Council of Australia – a group of CEOs from 100 leading Australian corporations – warned that the proposal would hurt industry and kill jobs. Gillard remained resolute on the carbon tax plan.

Also Saturday the Washington-based group The Business Roundtable, a similar group of CEOs from companies such as General Electric and Exxon Mobil, urged the Obama administration to abandon efforts to regulate greenhouse gases from industrial polluters, writes Bloomberg.com.

The group wants the EPA to scrap its “stifling” rules for power plants and oil refineries, and wait for Congress to craft legislation. With the statement, the Roundtable joins business lobbying group the Chamber of Commerce, Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats who also have called for blocking or delaying the EPA rules.

The EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions was one of the key points of contention in April’s narrowly avoided budget impasse and government shut-down. According to the Bloomberg report, it is likely that President Obama will veto any legislation that strips the EPA of its power to regulate carbon-dioxide pollution.

From an entirely different angle, the watchdog group Transparency International (TI) released a report Saturday, critical of carbon markets. The 400-page report, “Global Corruption: Climate Change,” finds that stronger oversight is needed in the many countries most able to impact climate change — thus, making any policies more effective, reports Reuters. The report is critical of the European Union’s $134 billion scandal-riddled carbon market as well as questions the integrity of the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The Berlin-based group estimated that total global climate change investments will reach almost $700 billion by 2020. “Where huge amounts of money flow through new and untested financial markets and mechanisms, there is always a risk of corruption,” the report said.

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