Australian PM to price carbon pollution next year

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday her government would decide next year how to charge Australia's major polluters for the carbon gases that they emit in a bid to curb the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

Gillard's plan to fast-track Australia's introduction of financial penalties for polluters came hours ahead of a United Nations climate change summit in Mexico starting on Monday that will consider how the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be replaced after 2012.

Australia and the United States had been the only industrialized countries to refuse to accept their Kyoto targets on reducing their carbon emissions until Gillard's center-left Labor Party was elected to govern in 2007.

The new Labor government under then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd immediately signed up to Australia's reduction target, but Rudd this year shelved until 2013 his plan to make polluters pay for permits to emit carbon gases.

Gillard, who replaced Rudd in an internal Labor coup in June before the party was returned at August elections to govern for another three years, said she was confident that her government would decide next year how to make polluters pay after a committee of lawmakers and experts reports on the best strategy to do so.

"2011 is the year Australia decides on carbon pricing," Gillard told an economics think tank.

Labor's previous attempts to make polluters pay have been thwarted in the upper house, the Senate, where the government does not hold a majority. The conservative opposition argues that families would pay the cost of pollution and has promised to never charge polluters.

Australia is one of world's worst carbon polluters per capita because of its heavy reliance on abundant coal reserves for power generation.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has downplayed the prospect of a global agreement being reached at the U.N. summit at Cancun.

Beginning Monday, 15,000 government delegates, environmentalists, business leaders, journalists and others will gather in the meeting halls of a Caribbean resort in Cancun for the annual conference of the 193-nation U.N. climate treaty.

Australia's climate change ambassador Louise Hand will lead the 35-strong Australian delegation before Combet heads to Mexico in the second week of the summit to take over.