Australia climate cuts “insulting sovereignty of other countries”

Leading UK government climate advisor says Canberra’s cuts to climate policy are “odd” and “selfish”

By Sophie Yeo

The Australian government is insulting the sovereignty of other countries with plans to dismantle its climate change policies says an advisor to the UK government.

Lord Deben, head of the UK Committee on Climate Change told RTCC that Australia’s attitude to reducing its carbon emissions was “very sad” and “something I feel very personally about.”

“It lets down the whole British tradition that a country should have become so selfish about this issue that it’s prepared to spoil the efforts of others and to foil what very much less rich countries are doing,” he said.

“All that pollution which Australia is pushing into the atmosphere is of course changing my climate. It’s a real insult to the sovereignty of other countries.”

The election of Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister, who had once described climate change as “absolute crap”, last September was a setback to environmentalists.

While the conservative leader now says he believes in climate change, his policies have been criticised for undermining Australia’s commitment to reducing its emissions.

Australia’s Climate Committee was immediately scrapped after Abbott was elected, with further plans currently in place to also abolish the government’s advisory Climate Change Authority.

In July, Abbott plans to fulfil his election pledge to repeal the country’s carbon tax – a price on emissions pushed through by the previous Labour government – and replace it with a ‘Direct Action Plan’.

Campaigners and analysts have said that this is unlikely to achieve Australia’s emissions reduction targets with current levels of funding allocated to the scheme.

Australia’s position is “nonsense” considering action being taken across the world to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the use of fossil fuels, said Lord Deben, who cited progressive action being taken in less economically developed countries, including Mexico.

He said: “It’s wholly contrary to the science, it’s wholly contradictory to the interests of Australia and I hope that many people in Australia will see when the rest of the world is going in the right direction what nonsense it is for them to be going backwards.”

New targets

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia is committed to achieving a 5% reduction in emissions on 2000 levels in 2020. This is a relatively small commitment compared to the US’ domestically set target of a 17% reduction on 2005 levels, or the UK’s pledge of a 50% reduction by 2027 on 1990 levels.

Yesterday, Australia’s Climate Change Authority released its report, “Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions” – a study recommending future emissions targets to the government, something it is legislated to do under the Clean Energy Act 2011.

The report recommended a 19% reduction target by 2020, following by a 40-50% target by 2030. It also put a recommended cap of 10 billion tonnes on the amount of carbon Australia should be able to burn by 2050 if the world is to stay below 2C – the level of warming deemed manageable by governments.

“The report looks at whether the Australian economy can achieve this, and it concludes that the Australian economy can. Indeed, the cost of inaction is far more than the cost of action,” said Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, in an interview with RTCC.

The Council is the reincarnation of the Climate Committee that the government scrapped last year, now funded by crowdsourced donations. “We’ve argued for a long time that we need higher targets in line with the science, so we definitely welcome the Authority’s advice of the 19% target,” she said.

John Connor, CEO of the campaign group The Climate Institute, said: “For too long our public debate on climate change has focused on pollution reduction goals that are inadequate and economically risky as well as internationally ignorant and unfair.

“Should the Government stick with the minimum 5 per cent pollution reduction target, it would be ignoring all credible independent advice that suggests this target is scientifically inadequate, economically risky and out of whack with the actions of the USA and other major emitters.”

Greg Hunt, Australia’s environment minister, said in a statement: “We will consider the Authority’s work respectfully and carefully.”

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