By Alexandra Kirk for The World Today
ABC News Online, Posted Thu Dec 11, 2008 4:37pm AEDT
Updated Thu Dec 11, 2008 4:41pm AEDT
The Federal Government appears set to adopt a two-tiered strategy on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, leaving open the option of a 25 per cent reduction by 2020 if the world agrees to a tough climate change agreement next year.
The Government is being lobbied by several international players to stick to an ambitious 2020 target, and the Australian Greens want a stronger approach.
But industry groups are still urging the Government to consider delaying the proposed start date for its emissions trading scheme.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is in Poland with ministers and officials from nearly 200 countries for the United Nations-led talks. Their mission is to reach an ambitious global climate change deal at the end of next year in Copenhagen.
It is the halfway point in efforts to agree to a legally binding regime for cutting greenhouse emissions as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
Senator Wong says progress is slow, but it's progress nevertheless.
"It was always going to be a working conference," she said.
"We are very pleased that we've made some progress in some of the technical groups on some issues.
"The key issue is to make sure we have a very clear, structured set of processes and negotiations in 2009 because we have a lot of work to do to get the Copenhagen agreement put together."
As the Federal Government prepares to reveal the design of its emissions trading scheme next week, along with a 2020 carbon target, Australia's being lobbied to stick to a 25 per cent cut in emissions to maintain the momentum of world negotiations.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former US vice-president Al Gore and leading British economist Nicholas Stern are all urging Australia to publicly support an ambitious target.
"The Prime Minister is in regular contact with world leaders and that is completely normal," said Senator Wong.
"In terms of what Australia will do, I have said clearly that we will be announcing our target range next week with the white paper.
"The detail of that, you will have to wait 'til next week, but we have always been clear that we understand that we do need to keep an eye to the international negotiations as well."
The Government appears to be opting for a two tiered strategy, linking its targets to the strength of international action - in other words the commitments of big emitters including the United States, China and India, with suggestions it could cut emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 but only if there's a comprehensive global pact.
The Climate Institute's John Connor says it is a fair enough approach.
"If there are no funny fudges here on that, then we will be welcoming that as a range, but pushing Australia to be as strong a global negotiator as possible for an effective deal," he said.
"The next big issue is to make sure that there are clear conditions on free permits and other assistance that is open for our generators, for our polluters as well.
"To make sure that we are actually transforming our economy to a low carbon one, not just wrapping it in cotton wool and climate protectionalism."
But Greens leader Senator Bob Brown doesn't think it's acceptable.
"It fits in. The coal and logging industry have got this Government's policy in their grasp and a 5 to 15 per cent range is what the Government would be opting for, but perhaps a 25 per cent saver if the rest of the world goes that way," he said.
"The important thing here is that instead of working to get the world to agree to a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, the Australian Government is holding back in the trades, is helping undermine that goal, which is minimum if the world is going to avoid catastrophic climate change."
He says it is as if Mr Rudd is morphing into John Howard when it comes to climate change recalcitrance.
For its part, business continues to push for a cautious approach.
Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group, representing the manufacturing sector, backs a two-tiered approach but still wants the Government to consider delaying its 2010 proposed start date.
"The starting date has to be determined when we think we have got the architecture of the emissions trading scheme right, and that is a big ask and we have still got a long way to go in that regard," she said.
"The global economic crisis has really added to the burden on the economy in terms of doing this, and the burden on companies having to really put in place all the things they have to put in place.
"You can have a dry run, where you involve less cost and less pressure on compliance but require companies to report on the quick permits, but not have a carbon price."
She says this can be done while still meeting Kyoto targets, and then a fixed price regime could exist for a couple of years also while still meeting Kyoto targets.