- Adam Morton, Frankfurt
- The Age, December 1, 2008
AUSTRALIA'S delay in announcing its 2020 greenhouse target until after a UN summit is a defensive move suggesting the Government will not take a lead in post-Kyoto talks.
That assessment comes from observers of the climate negotiation process.
Despite assurances that Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would fly to the summit in the Polish city of Poznan with a target on the table, the announcement has been delayed until December 15 — three days after talks conclude.
The delay also means Australia will not reveal its target until European leaders try to paper over growing divisions on a plan to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020.
A news release late on Friday said Canberra would take account of international developments before revealing the depth of its emissions cuts.
Bill Hare, a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the delay was disappointing. He said US president-elect Barack Obama had offered positive signs, but broader leadership was needed to forge a deal by the deadline late next year.
"It is a defensive rather than a forward-moving, agenda-setting strategy, which is what the world needs now given all the great difficulties," he said.
Australian Conservation Foundation climate change program manager Tony Mohr said the Federal Government had given up a chance to make headway just as developing countries were waiting to see what it would do. The environmental lobby and leading climate scientists have called on Australia to cut emissions by least 25 per cent by 2020.
"Australia has really lost the opportunity to push the negotiations forward," he said. "We are still hoping to see it at the very least join with the European Union, which for quite a few years has been pushing the target of keeping global warming at no more than two degrees."
John Connor, chief executive of green think tank The Climate Institute, said the timing was curious. "If the Government has decided on targets that will help an effective global deal, then it would be far more preferable to share this with global climate negotiators in Poznan," he said.
But Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said it made little difference if Australia announced its 2020 target before or after the meeting.
"I suppose the Government would like to see what other countries are thinking — there has been some speculation on what the European Union will do," he told The Age.
Dr Pachauri said everybody was distracted by the financial crisis, but it should not stop firm action "once the dust settles, give it a month or two".
Britain recently boosted its 2050 target from 60 to 80 per cent, but some EU countries are wavering. Italy and Poland lead a group that is threatening to veto the planned 20 per cent cut unless they win concessions.
Senator Wong will join about 100 ministers at the final two days of the conference, which runs until December 12. Australia's final emissions trading blueprint will also be announced on December 15.