Australia will respond to climate pressure – David Cameron

UK prime minister calls on Canberra to step up and make a greater contribution to cutting climate-warming emissions

By Ed King

International pressure on Australia to re-engage with efforts to address climate change is likely to ensure it plays a more constructive role in the future, UK prime minister David Cameron told a panel of MPs on Monday.

“My sense is they don’t want to be the back marker,” Cameron said. “Australia is clearly affected by climate change.”

Australian leader Tony Abbott swept to power in 2013 after a fierce domestic debate over a carbon pricing system, introduced in late 2012.

The country’s huge mining and extractive sector has long been opposed to any new policies linked to climate change, arguing they will affect exports worth billions of dollars.

As a result, Australia has played an increasingly marginal role at UN talks on developing a new climate agreement, due to be agreed in Paris in December 2015.

“I think they will feel pressure and want to do more,” said Cameron. “We should try and encourage them to do it in their own way.”

One sign Canberra is starting to feel the heat came at an international climate summit in Lima that concluded on Sunday.

Despite initially refusing to offer any money to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, aimed at boosting low carbon investments in poor countries, Abbott eventually backed down and offered US$165 million.

The prime minister also backtracked on a commitment to ban climate change from the G20 summit in November, held in Brisbane, after pressure from the US and EU.

But there is little sign he will significantly raise Australia’s carbon cutting goals, which target a 5% cut on 2000 levels by 2020.

Abbott’s administration has also sought to cut its renewable energy target, encourage more coal mining and open up protected forest areas to exploitation.

According to recent analysis by a team of independent scientists at Carbon Action Tracker, this means emissions are on course to be 26% above 1990 levels by 2020.

In contrast the EU is on course to reduce emissions 20% on 1990 levels by 2020.

“In terms of emission effort, Australia will be going in the opposite direction to China and the US, who are putting effort into reducing emissions,” they wrote.

Another study by the Netherlands environment agency suggests Australia’s emissions fell 2.8% between 2012-2013, its largest drop in more than two decades.

This has been attributed to the carbon price when it was operating, plus the closures of aluminium smelters and other industry.

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