Sign on now, UN climate chief says

The United Nations climate chief has called on Australia to sign up to a new round of the greenhouse-gas-limiting Kyoto Protocol, saying it already has significant clean-energy policies in place.

”From a national perspective it wouldn’t change that much what Australia is already doing,” the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said in Sydney.

”It would send a very clear message internationally that what Australia is doing at a national level is actually contributing to global interests.”

The comments by Ms Figueres come as the government weighs joining the federal opposition in backing a second round of the 1997 climate treaty.

The current period of the Kyoto Protocol, under which most developed nations pledged to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, lapses at the end of the year.

Negotiations over a second stage are fraught, with several wealthy nations, including the US, refusing to sign up to a binding greenhouse target until the major developing countries - mainly China and India - also agree to be bound by the protocol.

In South Africa last December, a deal was struck to work on a binding agreement that would cover all nations.

That work would continue until 2015, and if a deal were reached it would not take effect until 2020.

Until then, only the European Union and some smaller wealthy nations have committed to an internationally binding goal under a second round of Kyoto.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Mark Dreyfus, who has just returned from ministerial talks in South Korea ahead of the end-of-year climate summit in Doha, Qatar, said the Australian government had yet to decide its position on a second period of the protocol.

Mr Dreyfus said the government supported the EU’s plan for the second commitment period to run from the start of next year to 2020 - longer than the five years many developing countries want.

While the Doha talks will continue negotiations over how rapidly countries plan to cut emissions, Mr Dreyfus said the government had no intention of changing its target of a minimum cut in carbon dioxide emissions of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

”The government doesn’t regard the circumstances presently applying in the world to warrant a change,” he said.

Ms Figueres said 49 countries have already made public pledges to cut emissions by 2020, which is sending a signal to the private sectors and civil societies to reduce their reliance on energy from fossil fuels. She said about $1 trillion had already flowed into renewable energy technology, providing proof that countries around the world see it in their competitive self-interest to address energy security, pollution and other related issues.

”If we successfully address climate change, we will be accelerating an unavoidable energy revolution.”

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