Australia Should Make ‘Bold’ Move on Climate, De Boer Says

Australia can influence global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and should make a “bold advance” to tackle the issue, said Yvo de Boer, former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Australia is well-positioned to make a move,” De Boer, an adviser to KPMG International, told reporters in Sydney today. “Contrary to many other industrialized countries, you have not been severely affected by the economic crisis. You have a very energy-intensive economy, which is very clearly at odds with where the international community wants to go. I would argue this is the moment for Australia to make a bold advance.”

Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, will impose a price on carbon in July next year before the start of a trading system as early as 2015, according to plans set out by the ruling Labor Party. The opposition Liberal-National coalition has vowed to repeal Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposal if it wins the next election.

Developed countries are falling “far short” of achieving a target of reducing emissions in a range of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, De Boer said. He is hearing companies in Australia and across the world “cry out for clarity” on the cost of greenhouse gas emissions, the former UN official said.

“We are nowhere near, as an international community, delivering on the ambitions that the scientific community has said we need to have if we’re really going to address climate change in a fundamental way,” he said.

China’s Leadership

In countries such as China, economic expansion plans reflect an “understanding that we need to see a fundamental shift,” he said. This is “not just because of climate change, but because of global trends that relate to energy prices, energy security, material scarcity, and the huge population growth coming our way,” he said. “In a conversation about leadership, my inclination would be to point to countries like China, rather than a number of industrialized nations.”

China, the biggest emitter, has set a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by between 40 percent and 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

“I often hear, ‘Does it actually make any difference if Australia acts on this issue or not?’ with the argument being that Australia is small,” said De Boer, who is from the Netherlands.

“As somebody who comes from a country that’s about the size of Sydney and Melbourne combined, it’s fascinating to hear Australia talk about itself as being small. The international community is watching very closely the extent to which Australian politics and Australian policy develops.”

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