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Australia risks breaching Kyoto: expert

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Nov 28, 2007
Australia's new government must move quickly to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions after ratifying the Kyoto Protocol or risk breaching the pact, an expert warned Wednesday.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd was swept to victory in a landslide on Saturday on a mandate that included signing up to the UN-backed Kyoto process to limit carbon pollution, a policy he flagged as his first priority.

Outgoing conservative prime minister John Howard had refused to ratify the landmark pact but had insisted Australia would meet its Kyoto target anyway.

But Clive Hamilton, founder of the public policy think-tank Australia Institute, said the country's emissions were heading above the Kyoto Protocol target of 108 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.

"Our emissions are growing at about 1.5 to 2.0 percent a year -- you can see that between now and 2012 it's going to reach 130 percent," he told AFP.

"It does mean that the Rudd government is going to have to introduce some policies that do bite into that because the Howard government has not taken measures to restrict growth in emissions."

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change figures issued last week show that Australia is 25.6 percent over the 1990 benchmark, although Australian Environment Department officials insist the country's emissions are tracking to be just one percent over the target by 2012.

Hamilton said the discrepancy was due to the inclusion in the Australian statistics of land clearing, change in land use and forestry, which the Kyoto Protocol allows Australia to use to buffer its emissions figures.

The Australia Institute is part of the International Climate Change Taskforce with the Center for American Progress and Britain's Institute for Public Policy Research.

Hamilton said Rudd may have to overstep the campaign pledge to boost renewable supplies to 20 percent of total electricity output by 2020 to meet the target.

"I think they are going to need more than that," Hamilton said, adding that the new government would likely increase gas-fired electricity production and introduce measures affecting the transport sector.

Rudd has not yet been sworn in by Governor General Michael Jeffery -- the Queen's representative in Canberra -- but he is expected to be confirmed as prime minister within days.

As prime minister, Rudd could ratify the Kyoto Protocol within days, the former head of Australia's Department of Environment, Roger Beale, said.

Beale dismissed doubts raised by some experts over whether Rudd would be able to ratify the pact without parliamentary approval, saying he would only need the governor general to sign an order to ratify it.

"It's really a matter of policy and convention and judgement about whether or not he wants to recall the parliament," Beale told AFP. "Legally, all he requires is a decision by the governor general and executive council."

Rudd campaigned on joining the Kyoto pact and pledged to give Australia a better voice at global climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, next month.

But the United Nations will take 90 days to process Australia's request, meaning the process will not be final by the time Rudd arrives in Indonesia, even if he ratifies the pact this week.

Rudd's decision has been widely welcomed by the international community.

And the UN president of the Bali talks, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, said he hoped Australia would be allowed to fully participate, despite the 90-day period after ratification having not elapsed.

"We have to clarify it but there may still be some flexibility," Witoelar's spokeswoman told The Australian newspaper.

"The minister has been very keen. He has pushed for as much participation as possible for Australia. We're just still not sure what kind it could be," he said.

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China, France sign climate change pact
Beijing (AFP) Nov 26, 2007
Chinese President Hu Jintao and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday oversaw the signing of a bilateral pact on the fight against climate change.

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