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Carbon Tax Falls Flat in France

Another emissions reduction scheme has gone down in flames: a Constitutional court in France has nullified president Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to tax carbon dioxide at a rate of 17 euros per ton.

Sarkozy hoped to raise about 1.5 billion euros per year from the tax. But the courts found a major shortcoming in the structure, noting that 93 percent of emissions, mostly from major industries, would be exempted. Much of the tax would serve as a sort of additional gas tax levied on average people, the opposition Socialist party argued.

It has only been a few short weeks since Australia's own emissions trading scheme was voted down a second time, so emissions campaigners have taken two rather harsh blows in a single month, not counting the international debacle in Copenhagen.

Part of the problem for France was the existing European Union carbon trading system, which Sarkozy tried to navigate around by exempting companies that already buy carbon permits. There may be a deeper problem, though.

Carbon taxes, in particular, have only been successful in the affluent countries of Scandinavia. Both Australia and France, by contrast, have less homogeneous populations and more varied industries. In such countries, trying to strike a consensus deal is proving impossibly hard.

And for France, asking for a carbon tax makes the sell even tougher. A cap-and-trade system can be dressed up in various guises. A tax, on the other hand, is just a tax.

The incumbent parties in both Australia and France have vowed to continue work on their respective schemes. But there's a developing chicken-and-egg problem: without an international framework like the one Copenhagen was supposed to produce, national efforts can make little headway.

Without the national efforts, international progress will certainly remain stunted. Politics may take place in the moment, but emissions campaigners may have to settle for a lengthy process to get what they want.

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