As a first step, Howard said the government will introduce legislation later this year to provide for 'comprehensive, robust and streamlined national mandatory emissions and energy reporting.'
Addressing the Melbourne Press Club, Howard said, 'Now we must position Australia for a low carbon future. We face a major new reform challenge in designing an emissions trading system and setting a long-term goal for reducing our emissions in the absence of a global carbon scheme.'
'The scheme will include maximum practical coverage of emissions sources and sinks, and of all greenhouse gases, a mixture of free allocation and auctioning of single-year dated emissions permits, a safety valve emissions fee designed to limit unanticipated costs to the economy and to business, particularly in the early years of the scheme and recognition of carbon abatement by firms in the lead-up to commencement of the scheme,' Howard said.
'The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will be responsible for implementing this system and it will consult widely with industry and others,' he said. 'Before selecting a long-term emissions goal in 2008 the Government will commission careful modelling of the impact of various targets.'
Emphasizing the importance of a strong economy in dealing with climate change, Howard outlined Australia's energy future.
'Abundant reserves of coal, gas, solar energy resources, geothermal potential and the world's largest low-cost uranium deposit provide a natural strategic focus for Australia's clean energy technology policy,' the Prime Minister said.
'Under our Low Emissions Technology Fund the government has already funded major projects which together involve investments of approximately $3 billion. These include the world's largest and most efficient photovoltaic solar power station and the Gorgon CO2 Injection project which will be the largest geosequestration project in the world,' he said.
Today, the Prime Minister announced further development of nuclear power. The government will invest $12.5 million in a Nuclear Collaborative Research Program between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and Australia's university sector. This will augment Australia's ability to participate in the new generation nuclear energy systems known as Generation IV, he said.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, 'Australia's emissions trading scheme will be the most comprehensive in the world.'
'The scheme will cover 70-75 percentof total emissions, or almost 100 percent of industrial, energy and mining emissions,' the minister said. 'By including large emitters alone, the scheme would cover 55 percent of total emissions, however by including transport and other fuels the coverage of the scheme is significantly increased.'
'The science tells us the world needs to make massive cuts to global emissions over the next 50 years,' said Turnbull. 'For practical purposes this will mean that by mid-century all or almost all of the world's electricity will have to come from zero or near-zero emission sources.'
In addition, the Prime Minister announced a $26.1 million investment over five years to set up a single, streamlined system intended to make greenhouse gas and energy reporting by Australian companies as easy as possible.
Critics immediately jumped all over the government's plan, saying it does not go nearly far enough to deal with the global warming crisis.
The next general election for the Parliament of Australia must take place by January 19, 2008, and critics said the government's emissions trading scheme is merely electioneering.
The opposition Labor Party released a national television ad today with the message 'John Howard's asleep on climate change.'
Labor calls for cutting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent on 2000 levels by 2050, setting up a national emissions trading scheme, and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which the Howard Government opposes.
'If this is Prime Minister John Howard's big picture response to climate change it is a complete failure,' said Australian Greens climate change spokesperson Senator Christine Milne. 'This is an election driven response, not a climate driven response.'
'There are no science-driven targets, no role for Kyoto and no incentives for renewable energy. After a decade of inaction and active frustration of global efforts, Mr. Howard is delusional about Australia's global role in forging a new treaty to tackle climate change.'
'This announcement is an indication that if John Howard wins government again he won't tackle polluters, he'll give them free permits to pollute and the cheap option of a safety-valve if they exceed their permits. This trading scheme is being designed for polluters, not for the planet,' Senator Milne said.
The nation's largest environmental group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, ACF, said the government's cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme 'needs a cap.'
'The crucial feature of a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme is the cap – the target,' said ACF Executive Director Don Henry. 'Without a target, there is no certainty for business and no certainty for the environment.'
'In its submission to the Prime Minister's task group on emissions trading our leading scientific body, the CSIRO, recommended developed countries like Australia adopt targets to cut emissions by 60 to 90 percent by 2050 to help the world avoid dangerous climate change,' said Henry.
'Australians expect the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader to commit to this target before the election so we know whether their proposals are fair dinkum.'
Henry said the ACF has joined with the business community in calling for a 2020 target to ensure, as the Business Roundtable on Climate Change said last year, 'a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy and as a milestone towards achieving the long-term goal.'
Greenpeace Australia was scathing in its criticism of the government plan.
'Kyoto is up and running with a comprehensive emissions trading scheme. Any suggestion by John Howard to start a stand-alone Australian based trading scheme is just a delay tactic to appease the big coal polluters,' said Greenpeace.
'John Howard, if he was genuinely interested in dealing with climate change, could immediately increase our renewable energy target, mandate better efficiency for appliances and cars, and ensure no more polluting coal fired power stations are built,' Greenpeace said. 'None of this is happening.'
'The climate cannot wait. Scientists tell us we have five to 10 years to turn our emissions pathway around and away from climate disaster.'
But Environment Minister Turnbull said the government is concentrating on practical measures to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.
A new five-year $336.1 million Green Vouchers for Schools programme will provide every school in Australia with up to $50,000 to help install solar hot water systems and rainwater tanks, he said.
'Not only will this initiative help reduce our energy and water consumption, but it will provide students and school communities with a practical demonstration of the sustainable use of energy and of water,' said Turnbull.
Funding of $252.2 million over five years will also be provided for up to 225,000 solar hot water rebates of $1,000 for households which install eligible solar and heat pump water heaters in their homes.
'Energy used to heat water is the single largest source of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions from Australian homes, accounting for around 28 per cent of a home's energy use,' Turnbull said. 'By replacing high emission water heating technologies almost a million tonnes of greenhouse gases will be prevented from entering the atmosphere each year.'
But in the global scheme of things, whatever Australia does will not make much of a difference, said the Prime Minister today.
'Climate change requires a truly global response,' Howard said. 'With Australia's contribution to global emissions at less than 1.5 per cent and falling, nothing we do alone will materially affect our climate.'
The Kyoto model provides neither a global solution nor a lasting one and that is why Australia supports negotiations on a new global framework,' the Prime Minister said.
'A successful Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Bali, Indonesia in December, will be crucial. We also support international efforts to set by the end of next year a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,' he said. 'This is in line with our setting a long-term emissions reduction goal for Australia.'