ABC News Online, 19th March 2009
Tough call: A parliamentary committee wants an 80pc emissions cuts target (User submitted via ABC Contribute: JodieV, file photo)
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A Labor-dominated parliamentary committee is calling on the Federal Government to significantly toughen up its greenhouse gas emission cuts targets.
The Federal Government's existing target is to make cuts of 60 per cent by 2050, but Labor and Greens members on the joint standing committee on treaties have released a report saying nothing less than 80 per cent will be sufficient.
The committee's chair, Labor MP Kelvin Thompson, says that is the position that Australia should take into international negotiations for a new global climate change agreement.
Mr Thomson says US President Barack Obama has indicated that the United States is considering cuts of 80 per cent by 2050.
"We need to be willing to adopt such a target to take that to Copenhagen and to argue that other developed countries need to do likewise," he said.
"We've taken a science-based and evidence-based approach, and there are many recommendations we've made concerning the problem of savannah burning in northern Australia, concerning public transport, concerning renewable energy technologies.
"We believe [these] are worthwhile recommendations and we'd like the Government to look at them."
Mr Thomson says greenhouse gas emissions are generally measured against a 1990 baseline.
"This is rather onerous for Australia because we were expressly permitted to increase our emissions by 8 per cent in the first Kyoto period and also because the inaction of the previous government has left us tracking for 20 per cent carbon emissions above 1990 levels by 2020," he said.
"So it may be that our commitment to an 80 per cent cut should be a commitment to cut by 80 per cent from now on; that is to say a cut of 2 per cent every year from 2010 to 2050.
"Now that is challenging but achievable. We can't change our past but we must change our future."
The Opposition's committee members have tabled a dissenting report, describing the inquiry as a grandstanding exercise on climate change.
Opposition Senator and committee member Michaelia Cash says the Labor/Greens report shows the Government's true colours.
"The Rudd Government would impose even more ruinous targets on working Australia if they thought they could get away with it," she said.
But the Australian Conservation Foundation's executive director, Don Henry, says the Government should follow the committee's advice and increase Australia's targets before global climate change negotiations later this year.
"It's really important that Australia goes into the crucial Copenhagen negotiations as a leader," he said.
"The Government should take these committee's recommendations into Copenhagen, because we desperately need a strong global agreement to tackle climate change."
The Federal Government has committed to cutting emissions by 5 to 15 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.
A spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says the Government is prepared to reconsider its 2050 target as part of a global agreement, but will seek an explicit mandate at the next election if necessary.