Australia commits to modest emission cuts



Dry Australian outback

Worse to come: As the hottest and driest continent on Earth, Australia cannot afford to sit on the sidelines of the global climate debate.

Credit: iStockphoto

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Australia will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least five per cent compared to 2000 levels by 2020 to help combat climate change, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said today.

The national target was unveiled this morning with the release of the federal government's white paper on its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The paper also establishes a long-term target of a 60 per cent reduction in emissions from 2000 levels by 2050.

Rudd said that, as the hottest and driest continent on Earth, Australia could not afford to sit on the sidelines as the world risked rising temperatures and changed weather patterns from climate change.

"Five per cent below 2000 levels is our minimum, unconditional commitment to reduce emissions by 2020, irrespective of the actions of other nations," he told the National Press Club in Canberra.

"Fifteen per cent below 2000 levels is our commitment to reduce emissions further if there is a global agreement where all major economies commit to substantially restrain emissions and advanced economies take on comparable reductions to that of Australia," he said.

However, though any commitment to reduce levels of the atmospheric pollution blamed for global warming is a move in the right direction, Australia's minimum five per cent target has left many commentators surprised, falling far short of expectations.

"The 2020 target of only five to 15 per cent can mean only one of two things - Australia has either given up on avoiding dangerous climate change, or, Australia is looking to the international community to pick up its emissions reduction shortfall - effectively demanding that the international community subsidise its polluting industry," said Jeff Angel, Executive Director of the Total Environment Centre, a lobbying group in Sydney.

Indeed, the news of Australia's carbon reduction target has already drawn out protestors, seen outside Parliament House and ministerial offices in Canberra today with banners reading "Aim Higher: 40 per cent by 2020".

While Rudd agreed that while the government would be criticised for not setting higher targets, he argued that the proposed cuts are appropriate and responsible and will deliver the needed reform while supporting the economy amid a global recession.

He added that, despite the seemingly low figure, the cuts are a substantial commitment given that Australia's carbon pollution is projected to rise by a further 20 per cent between 2000 and 2020 if no action is taken.

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