Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'Groundhog day' at climate talks

AUSTRALIAN diplomats have been accused of helping turn UN climate talks in Poland into "groundhog day" by failing to support a proposal that rich countries look to the advice of climate scientists when setting greenhouse targets.

It is believed that Australia has joined Japan, Canada and Russia in wanting changes to a proposed agreement that says greenhouse cuts should be "informed" by advice that the developed world needs to cut emissions by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The disputed draft text is largely similar to a document that was supported by all four countries at a summit in Bali a year ago.

Backing the document would not bind Australia to a cut of 25-40 per cent — the range put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as giving the world a chance of limiting global warming to about 2 degrees.

But it would acknowledge the role of published science in deciding the combined cut that rich countries needed to make.

Developing nations, including China and low-lying Pacific islands, are unhappy with the document for other reasons — they believe the developed world should be making much deeper cuts.

The rift is a symptom of the stagnating climate talks, which are a halfway point between the Bali summit and a deadline for a new climate deal in Copenhagen next year.

Australian Conservation Foundation climate change manager Tony Mohr said Australia's position took it back a year to Bali, when agreement to "recognise" the 25-40 per cent target was reached at the last minute. He urged Climate Change Minister Penny Wong to take a lead once she arrived.

"It feels like groundhog day. We're having the same argument about the same issues and Australia is refusing to move even a whisker closer to actual negotiations over a real target," he said.

Bill Hare, a veteran observer of climate talks, based at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Berlin, said Australia was in danger of losing the opportunity to take a positive strategic role in the negotiations. He said Australian Government submissions to the summit "lacked content".

"They have been haggling on the ranges position, which was the centrepiece of the agreement in Bali," Dr Hare said.

The criticism of the Australian delegation comes as Senator Wong flies to Poland for a ministerial roundtable on the final two days of the summit, and the Federal Government faces pressure over its 2020 greenhouse targets, due to be announced next week.

French climate change ambassador Brice Lalonde said it made little sense for Australia not to have a 25 per cent cut within its 2020 greenhouse range, as the earliest cuts would be the most difficult, regardless of the overall target.

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