Adam Morton and Tom Arup
AUSTRALIA appears almost certain not to adopt a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 25 per cent, after Japan unveiled what was widely condemned as a weak target.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has announced a 2020 emissions target equating to an 8 per cent cut below 1990 levels.
Environmentalists and analysts described it as "appalling" and "the weakest target any country has pledged so far".
News of the Japanese target comes as the US Congress prepares to debate legislation to cut US emissions to about 4 per cent below 1990 levels, the international baseline year.
Both targets may become more ambitious: Japan's does not include carbon credits bought overseas, and the US will consider adding another 10 per cent by preventing logging in the tropics. But they are lower than required for Canberra to agree to its maximum target.
Australia's 2020 target range, backed by the Coalition, is a 5-25 per cent cut below 2000 levels — although it includes unlimited carbon credits bought from overseas.
That translates to a 4-24 per cent cut below 1990.
The Rudd Government has put several conditions on agreeing to a maximum 24 per cent cut, including other wealthy nations committing to total emissions reductions of at least 25 per cent below 1990 levels.
Andrew Macintosh, associate director of the Australian National University's Centre for Climate Law and Policy, said there was "zero chance" of that being achieved at international talks in Copenhagen in December.
His analysis found current commitments by rich nations add up to a combined cut of about 15 per cent. But he said that was better than was expected just months ago, largely due to a surprising level of commitment from the US.
"I think it would be a pretty good political outcome, but it's not enough to avoid dangerous climate change," he said.