By Shane McLeod for PM
ABC News Online, Sat Aug 1, 2009
The head of the UN climate agency says Australia does not need to pass ETS legislation before talks in Copenhagen. (freefoto.uk)
- Audio: Government denies ETS argument undermined (PM)
The Federal Government found itself wrong-footed today in its political campaign on carbon emissions by the head of the United Nations climate agency.
For months, the Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has argued that not passing the emissions trading scheme (ETS) would put Australian negotiators at a disadvantage in the global climate talks in Copenhagen in December.
But the head of the United Nations climate change body, Yvo De Boer, says that is not the case.
"What people care about in the international negotiations is the commitment that a government makes to take on a certain target," he told ABC Radio's AM program.
For the Opposition, under pressure and divided over how it is going to vote on the scheme in the Senate next month, it is a welcome diversion.
Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull gave his support to Mr De Boer's comments.
"I know Yvo de Boer, and I noted that he had some kind words to say about the Opposition too. I met him when I was environment minister," Mr Turnbull said.
"The reality is, what Kevin Rudd needs to take to Copenhagen is a commitment to targets and we have given him bipartisan support on the targets that he's proposed to take to Copenhagen.
"There is no question that the emissions trading scheme should... have its design finalised after Copenhagen and we've been saying that all year."
But the Government's countdown calendar is still on its website; Minister Penny Wong says it is still in the national interest for the scheme to be passed.
"Look, what Yvo [De Boer] went on to say was that these are matters of domestic policy and domestic issues," she said.
"What the Government is saying to the Australian people is this; that we want Australia, Australian businesses to know how we will meet the targets we sign up to in Copenhagen.
"We think that is the responsible thing to do and that is what passing the legislation will provide."
Yet for all the campaigning in public, it seems there is little real effort by the Government to secure the numbers to pass the legislation. It wants to put the ETS legislation to the Senate on August 13.
It could secure the votes it needs from the Greens and the minor parties but Greens Senator Christine Milne says there has been no serious attempt at negotiation.
"It's very clear, as it always has been that their preference has been to brown down the legislation with the Coalition than to work with the Greens, because the Greens want cuts based on the science," she said.
"We want strong targets and it's very clear the Government doesn't because they want to hold onto the coal industry for as long as they can."
Senator Milne says it is the numbers that matter, and the Greens say the targets the Government and the Opposition have agreed on are not enough.
"The climate is definitely the loser from the kind of politicking going on at the moment because what Yvo De Boer said very strongly is that we need to have very strong targets," she said.
"The developed countries must commit to much higher targets than Australia's got on the table.
"He's also pointed out that we need to get India, China Brazil and South Africa on board and they will only come on board if developed countries like Australia start committing to targets around 40 per cent."
Some of the business groups that have supported the Government's push for legislation repeated their support this afternoon, but say it is not a blank cheque.
While they want the certainty of knowing what the emissions trading scheme will entail, they want to make sure it is the right scheme. No legislation, they say, is better than bad legislation.