Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Australia Pledges 26% Emissions Cut Ahead of Climate Talks

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Australia pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2030, falling short of a U.S. commitment to reach the same target five years earlier.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government said it hoped to curb emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels over the next 15 years, joining other nations in setting a goal ahead of United Nations climate talks in Paris this December.

“We’ve got to be environmentally responsible, but we’ve got to be economically responsible too,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday. “We’ve got to reduce our emissions in ways which are consistent with continued strong growth.”

While Obama has made fighting global warming a second-term priority, Abbott faces criticism for not doing enough. His government has axed a program that put a price on carbon emissions, criticized wind farms and sought to ensure the future of coal, Australia’s second-largest export earner.

“One of the things that will benefit the world in the years and decades to come is if there is a greater use of Australian coal,” Abbott said Tuesday. “High-quality Australian coal, as opposed to low-quality local coal, is going to help other countries to, if not reduce their emissions, then certainly reduce their emissions intensity.”

2030 Doubts

Australia, one of the highest polluters per capita, should cut emissions by about 65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to the Climate Institute, a research group.

The Abbott government’s commitment is “vastly inadequate to protect Australians from the impacts of climate change,” Tim Flannery, a professor at independent advisory the Climate Council, said by e-mail Tuesday.

While Australia’s target is more ambitious than the goals set by Canada, Japan and South Korea when assessed against a common 2010 baseline, the country is lagging the U.S. and the European Union, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

It’s doubtful Australia can reach its 2020 targets, let alone its 2030 pledge, with the government’s current policies, Kobad Bhavnagri, a BNEF analyst in Sydney, said in a statement.

“A stronger, longer-term and more robust set of policies will be required to meet this target,” he said.

Since the carbon levy was scrapped, Australia has lacked an enforceable system to reduce greenhouse gases. The centerpiece of Abbott’s environmental policy is a A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund to encourage companies to cut greenhouse gases through taxpayer-funded grants.

‘Good for Humanity’

Abbott’s view that coal is “good for humanity” puts him at odds with a majority of Australians, according to the Climate Institute, citing a July 27-29 Galaxy Research survey. The poll of 1,016 adults found 72 percent agreed the nation’s old coal-fired power plants would need to be closed and replaced with clean energy, it said.

The Climate Change Authority, the government’s own adviser, has called for a cut of 30 percent below 2000 levels by 2025, and a 40 percent to 60 percent reduction by 2030.

The ultimate goal of the UN talks is to wrest commitments from nations to keep the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the point scientists say would protect against irreversible damage to the climate.

The U.S., the biggest emitter after China, promised to cut heat-trapping pollution 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The European Union plans to cut emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, while China has said that it would reach an emissions peak by 2030 and will boost its share of electricity from renewable energy.

Canada has pledged a 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 without saying how it will achieve that goal.

Australia is committing to “one of the weakest emissions reduction targets in the developed world,” Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler said in a statement Tuesday. “Tony Abbott has defied calls for action on climate change.”

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