Nusa Dua, Indonesia: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd handed over documents ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations in Bali on 12 December and said his own country was already suffering from global warming.
Rudd handed the documents to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the climate talks on the Indonesian island, where 190 nations are trying to initiate two-year talks on a global pact to fight a warming planet.
“For Australians, climate change is no longer a distant threat, our rivers are dying, bushfires are more ferocious and more frequent and our natural wonders -- the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, our rainforests -- are now at risk,” he said.
Rudd, whose Labor Party registered a landslide election victory last month, signed the pact last week as his first official act, leaving the United States as the only major developed nation outside the pact to fight climate change.
He described climate change as one of humanity’s greatest moral and economic challenges. “Australia now stands ready to assume its responsibility in responding to this challenge -- both at home and in the negotiations that lie ahead across the community of nations.”
Rudd’s stance is in contrast to his predecessor. Former prime minister John Howard’s 11-year government strongly opposed ratification of Kyoto, arguing it would unfairly damage Australia’s energy-export based economy and cost jobs.
Kyoto binds only 37 rich nations to curbs between 2008-2012. Developing nations are exempt from making cuts from the first phase that ends in 2012. The Bali talks aim to start two years of talks to bind all nations to greenhouse gas curbs from 2013.
Poor nations want rich countries, such as Australia, to do more before they agree and negotiators are working hard on a formula to draw in the developing world, particularly India and China, whose emissions are rising rapidly.
Australia, the world’s top coal exporter and biggest greenhouse gas emitter in per-capita terms, is under pressure at the Bali talks over its reluctance to back tough 2020 emissions guidelines for rich countries in the draft text.
Poor nations see these non-binding targets as a test of rich nations’ commitment to the act.
Rudd said his government needed to do its own economic studies first before committing to short-term targets. He has already pledged to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60% of 2000 levels by 2050.
“The community of nations must reach agreement. There is no plan B. There is no other planet any of us can escape to,” Rudd told delegates.
Australia negotiated hard at Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 for the most generous deal given to any major industrialised nation, winning an increase of 8% above 1990 emission levels against an average cut of 5% for other rich nations.