Calls for Australia to follow US, China climate deal

AFP , Thursday 13 Nov 2014

Australia was under pressure Thursday to follow the United States and China and ramp up efforts to combat climate change, as it prepared to host world leaders at the G20 summit.

The surprise deal between the world's two biggest polluters to curb greenhouse gas emissions was announced in Beijing on Wednesday, in a move hailed as a potential breakthrough in the long fight for a global pact.

In making the announcement, US President Barack Obama described climate change as an urgent global challenge.

"In addition, by making this announcement today, together, we hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious -- all countries, developing and developed -- to work across some of the old divides so we can conclude a strong global climate agreement next year," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed the deal but said his preoccupation in hosting the G20 in Brisbane at the weekend was on the economy, and creating growth and jobs.

"We've just had the APEC conference in Beijing and climate change was hardly mentioned," Abbott told reporters in Myanmar for the East Asia Summit.

"It was mentioned in passing by one leader in Beijing and look, there are lots of venues to deal with climate change."

Abbott said Australia's emissions amounted to about one percent of the globe's, whereas the US accounted for about 15 percent and China 24 percent.

"As for Australia, I'm focusing not on what might happen in 16 years' time, I'm focusing on what we're doing now and we're not talking, we're acting," he said, in reference to China's aim for its emissions to peak by around 2030 and for 20 percent of its energy to come from renewables by then.

But his attitude was criticised by environmentalists with one saying the US-China deal highlighted "the ludicrous inadequacy" of Australia's policies, which have seen the scrapping of a carbon tax designed to combat climate change and of a mining tax on coal profits.

"I don't think he was listening when the world's two biggest economies had this as central to their economic agenda right now and for years to come," John Connor, from Australia's independent Climate Institute, told AFP.

Australia is one of the top 20 polluting countries in the world and produces more carbon pollution per person than any other developed country, the Institute said.

The government is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by five percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and has announced Aus$2.55 billion ($2.22 billion) Emissions Reduction Fund to give polluters financial incentives to reduce emissions.

But former Australian prime minister Paul Keating said the China-US deal showed what a "complete nonsense" the government's policy was.

"The carbon tax was there to... price pollution. When you stop pricing pollution (and) you start gifting money to polluters, you know you're on the wrong tram," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Australia's Treasurer Joe Hockey said climate change would be discussed at the G20 but would not be allowed to dominate the agenda.

"There will be no single issue that will distract leaders, or anyone else, from delivering on the task of delivering on growth and jobs," he told reporters in Brisbane.

"Of course climate change is hugely important, of course it's both a risk and an opportunity, but there are many issues that will help drive economic growth and that will come from the structural reforms laid down at this meeting."

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