By Shane McLeod for TWT
ABC News Online, 31 July 2009
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Australia's commitment to an emissions target is important to international negotiations leading up to the Copenhagen climate talks, says the head of the United Nations (UN) climate agency.
The UN's Yvo de Boer, on his way to Australia to meet Pacific leaders at their annual forum meeting in Cairns next week, says it would benefit Pacific countries to work with Australia in negotiating a global climate deal.
"The Pacific Island countries are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change - most likely to be impacted by sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and changes to their climate as a result of global warming," he said.
"I think it's in the direct geopolitical interests of Australia to ensure that we craft a response to climate change that addresses the concerns of your Pacific Island partners."
But environmentalists say Australia and New Zealand are a long way from matching what the Pacific nations want in terms of carbon emission reductions and money to help them develop without relying on fossil fuels.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Trish Harrup says the Pacific Island countries are clear about what they want.
"The survival of small island states to be set as a benchmark for a global agreement and that rich countries cut their emissions by 40 per cent," she said.
"That the rich countries put billions of dollars on the table to help with the adaptation, and share their intimate tool property and technology knowledge so that countries in the Pacific can develop cleanly."
None of those positions, as yet, are supported by Australia or New Zealand.
The joint statement that emerges from the Pacific leaders meeting will be the result of intense negotiations between the diplomats.
On an international scale, Mr De Boer says he is confident that the Copenhagen summit will yield a substantial deal, but says developed nations need to show how they are going to pay for it.
His hopes for Copenhagen outcomes are specific.
"We need ambitious emission reduction targets from industrialised countries, showing that they're willing to lead the way," he said.
"Secondly, we cannot have a meaningful response to climate change without also the engagement of major developing countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
"My third benchmark is significant international financial support that will allow developing countries, both with investments to limit the growth of their emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change."
But Mr De Boer says he wants to make sure Pacific nations' voices are heard in the global debate, and Australia's role as a big coal exporter should not stop it from negotiating the global climate agreement with Pacific nations.
"Oil is running out I think in the next 30 to 50 years perhaps," he said.
"We have enough coal on our planet to keep burning it for the next 600 to 800 years so clearly coal is going to be an essential part of the energy mix going into the future.
"But we can only have it be an important part of the energy mix if we can use it much more cleanly than we are doing at the moment and that implies clean coal technology, carbon capture and storage and technologies like that."