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Australia Joins Europe in Kyoto Extension; New Zealand Opts Out

Australia plans to renew its binding pledge to reduce emissions under the Kyoto treaty, breaking ranks with neighboring New Zealand and further aligning itself with the European Union.

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, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said at the Carbon Expo in Melbourne. More important than extending Kyoto is reaching a new climate deal that includes the U.S. and China, he said. New Zealand said today it won’t extend its Kyoto pledge.

“While Australia is doing our fair share, we expect the same from others,” Combet 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, 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 national action when negotiators from about 200 countries meet later this month in Doha, Qatar.

“We first linked our carbons schemes; now Australia joins us in the second Kyoto Protocol period,” EU Climate Chief Connie Hedegaard said today in post on Twitter. “Great news. Welcome aboard.”

Climate Commitments

Australia’s willingness to increase emissions targets goes back as far as three or four years ago, Combet said. He reiterated the targets today as part of a strategy to encourage China and the U.S. 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 act if other nations do the same, Combet said. Australia’s 5 percent reduction in greenhouse gases may one day appear small relative to other national pledges, said James Cameron, chairman of Climate Change Capital in London. Moves by California, China, South Korea and other nations to reduce emissions give 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 that uses cap and trade either nationwide or in one of its jurisdiction by 2020, he said.

Global Cooperation

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

Australia’s opposition party reiterated its objection to 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 today in Melbourne.

Should the coalition win the election scheduled for next year, it will dismantle the system within six months, 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 the most cost-effective climate spending, Hunt said.

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

New Zealand will align its climate policy with the largest emitters such as the U.S. and China instead of committing to a second phase of the Kyoto agreement, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said today in a statement.

“I want to emphasize that New Zealand stands 100% behind its existing Kyoto Protocol commitment,” Groser said. The government decided it was in “New Zealand’s best interests” to join the large majority of economies that won’t extend their commitments, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in Sydney at jpaton4@bloomberg.net

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