15 Dec 2008

Australia aims for at least 5% cut in gas emissions

7:07 pm on 15 December 2008

Australia will aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% by the year 2020, and possibly as much as 15% if the world signs an effective climate pact.

On Monday afternoon, the federal government revealed the design of its carbon pollution reduction scheme.

It insists the scheme should start in 2010 and says delaying would serve no one.

It says the economic cost is modest and has promised that all money raised from auctioning permits will be returned to households and businesses.

Scientists have called for countries to slash their emissions by between 25% and 40% to avert catastrophic climate change.

The Australian government has also heeded business concerns about emissions trading.

Its scheme, to start in mid-2010, will hand about $A4 billion to the coal industry to compensate it for efforts to tackle climate change.

More businesses will also receive free pollution permits than the government first planned.

The government has promised a range of compensation measures for households and business to cope with the cost of the scheme.

Greenpeace has accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of betraying Australians on climate change.

Greenpeace labelled the target as pathetic and totally unacceptable.

It says Mr Rudd has caved in to the "bullying tactics of the coal and other polluting industries".

But business groups also expressed unhappiness at the target.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry says reducing emissions by 5% would be difficult for the business community when it is also dealing with the financial crisis.

New Zealand Climate Change Minister Nick Smith has praised what he calls Australia's realistic carbon emissions reduction targets.

Mr Smith says the levels reflect a sense of realism on climate change, noting that New Zealand itself promised grand things such as carbon neutrality at a time when emisisons were in fact soaring.

He says history is littered with grand pronouncements on climate change that have produced nothing.

But one New Zealand climate change expert believes Australia is pitching its policy too low.

Ralph Chapman, the director of environmental studies at Victoria University, says New Zealand should nevertheless look at the form of the proposal.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser says a climate change agreement that does not effect agricultural production is vital.

Greenpeace is accusing the Government of dragging the chain on climate change at a conference in Poland. The event is the halfway mark towards an agreement in Copenhagen next December to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Mr Groser told the conference that New Zealand must look carefully at any agreement before it signs as almost half of New Zealand's carbon emissions come from agriculture.

He said the Government is not asking for a special deal for New Zealand.

Mr Groser said the answer cannot be simply to cut agricultural production and it needs something a little more subtle.