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Australia ready to join Europe in extended and binding Kyoto pledge

AUSTRALIA plans to join Europe in a renewed and binding pledge to reduce emissions under the Kyoto treaty, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said on Friday before leaving later this month for negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

Australia is also prepared to raise its 2020 target for cutting emissions from 5 percent to as much as 15 percent or 25 percent should other countries take similar steps, Combet said on Friday at the Carbon Expo in Melbourne. More important than extending Kyoto is reaching a new climate agreement that binds the US and China to emissions reductions, he said.

“While Australia is doing our fair share, we expect the same from others,” he said. “The Kyoto Protocol is not enough on its own. It will cover less than 15 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and only from developed countries.”

The European Union (EU), overseeing the world’s largest emissions market, and Australia, which agreed to link with the EU system starting in 2015, are increasingly in sync on climate policies.

Besides agreeing to an extended commitment to the 1997 Kyoto treaty, the EU and Australia are holding out the possibility of making greater pledges to cut emissions to encourage similar global action.

New Zealand said on Friday it won’t renew its pledge to the Kyoto agreement.

“By signing onto Kyoto as well as linking our emissions trading scheme with the European Union, Australian liable entities will now have access to almost all of the current global carbon market,” Combet said.

Australia’s willingness to increase emissions targets goes back as far as three or four years ago, Combet said.

He reiterated the targets on Friday as part of a strategy to encourage China and the US to make good on promises at last year’s climate summit in Durbin, South Africa, to agree to a treaty by 2015 to start cutting emissions no later than 2020, he said.

Australia’s offer is “not a blank check” and will only take place if other nations act, Combet said.

Australia’s 5-percent reduction in greenhouse gases may one day appear small relative to what other nations are pledging, said James Cameron, co-founder of Climate Change Capital in London.

Moves by California, China, South Korea and other nations to reduce emissions gives new relevance to Australia’s readiness to consider a higher target, Cameron said.

“Now, it’s impossible to argue that there are no international efforts to address climate change,” he said.

Combet defended Australia’s move to begin pricing carbon in July and to start a cap-and-trade system in 2015. About 3 billion people may live in a place using cap and trade either nationwide or in one of its jurisdiction by 2020, he said.

“Paying for pollution is no longer the exception,” Combet said. “It’s a global reality.”

Australia’s opposition party reiterated its objection to the country’s carbon pricing. The law supported by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and enacted by Parliament is a tax on electricity that is too expensive and fails to reduce the nation’s emissions, Greg Hunt, the coalition leader on climate, said in Melbourne.

Should the coalition win the election scheduled for next year, it will dismantle the system within six months and would consider calling another election if needed, he said.

The coalition supports the target of reducing Australia’s emissions by 5 percent this decade and would commit as much as A$750 million a year to reward entities that demonstrate their climate spending is the most cost-efficient, Hunt said.

Asked if the coalition supports a renewed commitment to Kyoto, Hunt said his party supports international action to address climate change.

(Bloomberg News)

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