Australia alters stance on climate change pact


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For the first time, the Howard Government has distanced itself from the United States' hardline attempts to stall international action to stop global warming.

They are the only two developed countries that have not signed the Kyoto Protocol, the global agreement to reduce heat-trapping emissions. But last week's US lobbying at a United Nations climate change conference - described as "atrocious" by Australian environment groups at the meeting - has prompted the Federal Government to clarify its policy.

Australia did not agree with the US stance against future greenhouse gas targets or that economic growth and technological innovations would be the only answer to reducing emissions, federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said from London on his way home from the UN conference in Argentina.

"The difference between the US and Australia is that we are prepared to engage in a new agreement (after Kyoto) as long as it is comprehensive. But a new agreement will have to include the US and the developing world," he said.

He described this difference as "subtle".

The accord comes into force on February 16, but many countries - especially those of the European Union - are keen to discuss what happens after 2012, when Kyoto expires.

The US successfully stopped concrete action at the Buenos Aires 10th UN climate change conference, which finished on Saturday, with a watered-down compromise for nations to meet at an informal seminar next year and "exchange information".

Due to pressure from the US, developing countries and oil-producing nations, next year's meeting is being called a seminar to emphasise that no decisions will be taken. Bush Administration officials at the conference opposed the use of the phrase "climate change" in favour of the more benign "climate variability".

Senator Campbell said a future accord must engage the US, responsible for almost a quarter of global emissions, and the developing countries, which will be future large polluters as their economies grow.

He said he had accepted an invitation from British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to attend a special G8 ministerial forum on global warming in London in March. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair will use his 2005 presidency of the G8 group of leading industrialised nations to focus on climate change action and to re-engage developing countries and the US.

Senator Campbell said he had also reached an agreement with New Zealand and the respected Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, a US independent think tank, to hold a conference in Australia. The April forum will invite business and government leaders to consider lateral solutions to cutting greenhouse gases. Australia's anti-Kyoto business sectors would be asked to participate, he said.

Labor environment spokesman Anthony Albanese welcomed the shift from the US position, but said hitching Australia's participation in an international treaty to US involvement was absurd.

"The US have already said they won't participate," he said.

"It's a pity that the minister's keenness not to miss an international conference is not matched by his keenness to miss an international treaty."

Environmentalists, who last week called for Senator Campbell to explicitly reject the US position, were pleased the Howard Government had distanced itself, but said talk was easy and domestic action was needed to cut emissions.

"Certainly we welcome the fact that Senator Campbell isn't just toeing the US line," Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Erwin Jackson said. "But if we don't deliver at home on emissions . . . we won't be taken seriously internationally."

Greenpeace, which said the US behaved "atrociously" at the Argentina conference, said it was a positive move by Australia.

and its about time if you ask me, these should be no reason for dragging your heels when it comes to greenhouse reductions, i think the US should get tis butt into gear and join the rest of the worlds attitude to the environment, because thier line on this one is very much last century