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Australia axes ministerial role for climate change

BEIJING, Sept 16 (Reuters Point Carbon) - The new Australian Cabinet will be the first in six years to not have a ministerial role for climate change issues, merging instead global warming with the wider environment portfolio.

Announcing his Cabinet on Monday, incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed Greg Hunt, the Liberal-National Coalition’s spokesman on climate change issues since 2009, as the new Minister for the Environment.

“(Hunt) will have responsibility for the abolition of the carbon tax, implementation of the Coalition’s Direct Action plan, the establishment of the Green Army and the creation of a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals,” Abbott said in a statement.

Hunt, 47 and a member of parliament since 2001, has had the main responsibility of developing and promoting the Direct Action Plan, the Coalition policy to reach the national target of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.

Under the plan, the new government will set up a fund to buy emission cuts from those companies that pledge to achieve them at the lowest cost.

"The change signals that as expected, the Abbott government will not give climate change the same weight as the previous government," said Frank Jotzo, deputy director of Australia National University's Climate Change Institute.

"The environment ministry traditionally holds less sway in cabinet than many others, and the integration of the climate policy bureaucracy into the Environment department will also tend to diminish its role," he said by email.

Meanwhile, Abbott appointed Ian Macfarlane the new Minister for Industry.

Macfarlane was Hunt’s predecessor as climate change spokesman, but lost his position after negotiating a compromise emissions trading scheme with the Labor party in 2009, a process that ended with then-Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull losing his position to Tony Abbott.

The appointment of Macfarlane was welcomed by the Australian Coal Association, which said on Twitter that it was “delighted on the appointment of Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane; an excellent advocate for mining industry”.

The new Cabinet will be sworn in on Wednesday.

By Stian Reklev - stian.reklev@thomsonreuters.com

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