SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's parliament has delayed a vote on an emissions trading scheme scheduled for Thursday because of political wrangling between the government and opposition ahead of parliamentary polls in April, a government official said.
If approved, the scheme to cap South Korea's growing emissions of carbon dioxide from early 2015 would become the third in the Asia-Pacific to put a national price on carbon after Australia and New Zealand.
The program opens the possibility of international linkages with other schemes as part of a global effort to curb the growth of carbon pollution that scientists blame for heating up the planet and triggering more chaotic weather.
The bill has been delayed for months because of strong industry opposition and other political disputes, including a row over last year's free-trade agreement with the United States.
Last week, a multi-party committee approved the plan and handed it to a legal panel for a final review before the plenary session.
"A legal panel has not yet been held, and we don't know when it will resume," the government official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
"The delay is due to other domestic political issues, not over the emission bill."
However, the bill can still be voted in the current session of parliament, which has been extended to mid-March.
The government says the scheme is crucial to reining in emissions from Asia's fourth-largest economy, which have doubled since 1990 and are now about 600 million tones a year, slightly larger than Australia's.
Industry bodies say the plan, which would cover 60 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, would lead to higher costs.
Under the current target management scheme, which will be phased out once the emissions trading scheme starts, 366 firms must cut emissions 1.42 percent below their business-as-usual levels.
South Korea's major emitters include major employers such as POSCO, the worlds No.3 steelmaker, and Samsung Electronics.
Under the latest version of the bill, 95 percent or more of permits, each representing a tone of carbon emissions, would be awarded free in the scheme's two first phases, spanning 2015-2017 and 2018-2020.
But the bill does not contain details as where the permits would be traded, how they would be priced and which firms have to comply. These details are likely to be settled over the next six months, once the bill is approved, according to a government official.
(Writing by Cho Meeyoung; Editing by Sugita Katyal)