By the Blouin News Politics staff

Abbott reluctantly takes Australia on CO2 reduction path

by in Asia-Pacific.

Tony Abbott announces his ministery at Parliament House on September 16, 2013 in Canberra, Australia. Getty Images

Tony Abbott in Canberra, Australia on September 16, 2013. Getty Images

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Tuesday that the country plans to reduce its carbon emissions 26-28% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The conservative leader said that this target “gets the right balance between our economic and environmental responsibilities.” He added that “We are committed to tackling climate change without a carbon tax or an emissions-trading scheme that will hike up power bills for families, pensioners and businesses.”

“Our 26 to 28% target, it’s better than Japan. It’s almost the same as New Zealand. It’s a whisker below Canada. 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,” Abbot said. “We are not leading but we are certainly not lagging,” he summed up.

As the U.N. climate change conference (to be held in Paris in November and December) approaches, countries around the world have been announcing their carbon emissions reduction targets. However, Australia’s announcement drew immediate criticism from environmentalists and elsewhere for being far too little. The Australian Academy of Science said the country should aim for cuts of 30-40% from 2000 levels, arguing that the starting point should not be 2005, when Australia’s emissions were higher.

And Tony de Brum, the Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, said in a statement “If the rest of the world followed Australia’s lead, the Great Barrier Reef would disappear. So would my country, and the other vulnerable atoll nations on Australia’s doorstep.”

With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population of 23 million, Australia is ranked one of the world’s worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters. It is also the 13th largest carbon emitter in absolute terms. But with Abbott’s pro-coal mining conservative government in power, no further commitment is likely. In fact, under his watch the government last year repealed laws requiring large firms to pay for carbon emissions.

Likewise, Abbott said he was “frustrated” by the Federal Court’s decision last week to revoke the environmental approval for the $12.5 billion Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. “I think increasingly people could become angry with this outcome,” he added. But other entities have seen the writing on the wall. The bank Standard Chartered announced on Monday it will not advise or help finance the Carmichael mine, copying the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s exit from the project last week.

If the Carmichael mine really is aborted, Australia’s future emissions will be notably lower than feared — no thanks to the current government.