Australia pledges 26% emissions cut by 2030

Australia plans to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Tuesday, a target critics say falls well short of its fair share globally. Abbott, however, said his conservative government's target was "fairly in the middle" of those made by other economies which will be taken to an upcoming global climate conference in Paris. "We have come to the position our 2030 emissions reduction target will be in the range of 26 to 28 percent," Abbott told reporters in Canberra. "There is a definite commitment to 26 percent but we believe under the policies that we have got, with the circumstances that we think will apply, that we can go to 28 percent." With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population of 23 million, Australia is considered one of the world's worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters. Abbott has been widely seen as a reluctant advocate for fighting climate change, having scrapped a controversial tax on carbon emissions by industrial polluters and consistently promoted the coal export industry. He said Tuesday strong and effective policies were needed to tackle the issue, and Australia was reducing emissions in part through a carbon abatement programme -- whereby energy efficient companies are rewarded. But he said Australia's commitment to the environment had to be balanced against economic growth and jobs, and did not need to be the strongest in the world. - 'Vastly inadequate' - "Our 26 to 28 percent target, it's better than Japan. It's almost the same as New Zealand. It's a whisker below Canada," said Abbott. "It's a little below Europe. It's about the same as the United States. It's vastly better than Korea. "And, of course, it is unimaginably better than China," he said, in reference to the world's top carbon polluter which last month promised to peak emissions within about 15 years, in a move widely hailed as a boost for the international effort to curb global warming. "We are not leading but we are certainly not lagging," Abbott said. Paris will host the UN climate conference at the end of the year, with organisers hoping to conclude a pact limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels. Environmentalists accused Australia of not doing enough to curb the pollution blamed for global warming, saying the Abbott government fell well short of doing its fair share globally. "These targets are vastly inadequate to protect Australians from the impacts of climate change and do not represent a fair contribution to the world effort to bring climate change under control," said Tim Flannery from the independent Climate Council. Will Steffen, a climate change expert at the council, said Australia's pledge was not too different from that of Canada and Japan but significantly behind the EU and United States and "still at the bottom of the pack in terms of the developed countries". "Where we need to be in terms of playing our fair share for the two-degree policy target... we are way below that," Steffen told AFP, adding it was unfair to compare Australia's pledge to China's commitments given it was still a developing country. WWF-Australia also said Australia's target was below efforts being made by the United States, which has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 -- significantly five years earlier than Australia -- and the EU which has gone even further. "If every country matched Australia's effort the world would be on track for three to four degrees of warming," said WWF-Australia's Kellie Caught. Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra, agreed the target fell far short of the international goal. But he noted that "most other developed countries' targets also fall short". "However this target means Australia is at least on the boat with international climate action, even if considered a laggard," he said. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who will attend the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, defended the pledge by Australia, responsible for 1.3 percent of global emissions. "It means that Australia... as the 13th largest emitter in absolute terms is doing our bit and that's what matters," she said.