US, Brazil and China voice doubts over Australia climate plans

Leading economies use UN session to probe Canberra government over plans to slash emissions 

(Pic: Joan-Campderrós-i-Canas/Flickr)

(Pic: Joan-Campderrós-i-Canas/Flickr)

By Ed King

Brazil, China, South Africa and the US have questioned whether Australia’s current climate policies will see the country able to make future greenhouse gas cuts.

Ten countries voiced their concerns at a special review session at UN climate talks in Bonn over Canberra’s long term emission targets and commitment to the 2015 Paris deal.

Brazil suggested Australian emission reduction estimates for 2020 were “not feasible” given it had scrapped its emissions trading scheme in 2013.

China asked why projected emissions could rise over the next decade given Canberra’s claim to have decoupled economic growth from CO2 rises.

Pretty poor

And South Africa labelled a 2020 goal of slashing emissions 5% on 2000 levels “pretty poor”, asking why it had not chosen a tougher baseline year of 1990 like the European Union.

In response Australia’s embattled Ambassador Peter Woolcott, who spent much of the session poring over a vast file of notes with colleagues, said the goal was “fair and equitable.”

“Australia’s view is that the world is a different place than 1992 – the transfer of wealth from west to east has been enormous and emissions profiles are changing,” he said.

“We need to recognise if we are going to tackle climate change we need to do it in a concerted way. That reflects that view and realities of the world we live in.”

Ambassador Peter Woolcott discusses responses with colleagues at today's UN session in Bonn

Ambassador Peter Woolcott discusses responses with colleagues at today’s UN session in Bonn

He insisted the country would meet its 2020 goal, a view not shared by analysts at the Climate Action Tracker institute, who say emissions will likely rise 12-18% above 2000 levels.

Answering questions on the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which replaced the emissions trading scheme (ETS), Woolcott’s colleague admitted it would only have limited impact on heavy industry.

The country expected emissions to rise as a result of farming and an increase in mineral, coal and gas extraction she said, adding Australia was exploring how it could contain leaks of methane gas, known as ‘fugitive emissions’.

In response to a question from the UK, she added that consultations were also ongoing over possible emission standards for vehicles, but gave no further details.

Ongoing interrogation

Woolcott said the government was still working on its pledge to a UN climate pact, known as an INDC, but cautioned it would take its time. “There’s no sense of a stab in the dark on this,” he said.

The questions and answer session was part of an ongoing assessment process at the UN, allowing countries to interrogate each other on their carbon cutting plans.

Australia’s 36 online questions were more than any other country, followed by the US on 33, Japan on 32 and Russia on 27.

Erwin Jackson from the Sydney-based Climate Institute labelled the performance of Australia’s team in Bonn “evasive” and “disappointing”.

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“Australia failed to clarify why it should do less than other countries like the USA and why it is not currently focused on increasing its currently inadequate 2020 pollution targets in line with the actions of other countries,” he said.

“The lack of ambition and transparency on its domestic policies will only focus greater attention on the government’s targets and policies as other countries push for further answers and actions from the government.”

Talks in Bonn on the framework for a global climate deal still have a week to run. So far countries have reduced an unwieldy 90-page text by 5%, said the co-chairs running the talks.

The French hosts of this year’s summit want a document ready by the end of August, with a view to cementing a deal ahead of December when it is scheduled to be signed off.

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