Australia’s Abbott Defends Climate Pledge as Criticism Increases

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended his policies to tackle carbon emissions after the government’s climate change adviser said the nation is lagging peers in cutting greenhouse gases.

Australia’s pledge earlier this week to reduce emissions at least 26 percent by 2030 is a “responsible” step before climate talks in Paris in December, Abbott said Saturday in a speech in Adelaide. The target is “substantially weaker than that recommended” by the Climate Change Authority, Chairman Bernie Fraser wrote in a letter Friday.

The prime minister has faced criticism for not doing enough to fight global warming, axing a program that put a price on carbon emissions and seeking to ensure the future of coal, Australia’s second-largest export earner. The opposition’s proposals will lead to significant overbuilding of renewable-energy plants, he said.

“The last thing we should ever do is clobber the economy to protect the environment,” said Abbott. “Because if we clobber the economy, the environment will surely suffer.”

The government said Tuesday it hoped to curb emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels over the next 15 years. The target “would put Australia at or near the bottom of the group of countries we generally compare ourselves with,” according to the Climate Change Authority, which has called for a cut of 40 percent to 60 percent by 2030.

The U.S., the biggest polluter after China, has promised reductions of 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and the European Union plans to cut greenhouse gases 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. China has said that it would reach an emissions peak by 2030.

“Climate change is real, and we must take action because humanity does make a contribution,” Abbott said, rejecting claims his government is “indifferent” to the environment. “This government cares passionately about the environment. We only have one planet, and we must leave it in better shape for our children and our grandchildren,” he said.