Australia is refusing to take a plan for deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to a special world leaders’ climate summit in New York next week, rejecting calls from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who will represent the Abbott government at the conference on Tuesday, ruled out bringing to the table beefed-up emissions reduction targets, despite hopes the meeting would build momentum towards signing a new post-2020 global climate change deal in Paris next year.
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are among the 125 world leaders who will attend the summit where Mr Ban has demanded “bold announcements and actions” from countries to demonstrate readiness to “scale up” action on global warming.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not attending, despite planning to be in New York a day later for special UN talks on the escalating military situation in Iraq. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also skip the meeting.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Ms Bishop said Australia would use the summit to confirm its commitment to a new global agreement on climate change next year but it was “too early” to present plans for deeper emissions cuts beyond Australia’s existing policies.
Ms Bishop said she would reaffirm Australia’s commitment to reduce emissions by 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020.
The government will also use the New York meeting to drum up support for an Asia-Pacific rainforest summit in Sydney in November and to join a global declaration to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, so-called “super greenhouse gases” used for refrigeration and air conditioning.
An election commitment, the rainforest summit would focus on rainforest protection in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ms Bishop said the proposal was “an opportunity for governments, business and NGOs to commit to protective steps” for rainforests and preserve their environmental, economic and social benefits.
Earlier this week Mr Ban said he expected Tuesday’s summit to lay the framework for putting a price on carbon.
The Abbott government became the first country in the world in July to abolish a carbon price and its alternative direct action policy is in limbo without support in the Senate.
Ms Bishop said she would use the New York summit to talk up direct action’s centrepiece, a $2.55 billion emissions reduction fund to pay polluters to reduce emissions, and she expected Australia’s approach “will be respected for what it is” because there was “no one-size-fits-all way to reduce emissions”.
But the Foreign Minister said she would not lay down plans for targets beyond 2020.
“I will confirm that we are committed to a new global agreement,” Ms Bishop said.
“We’re looking at what other countries are doing, we’re in consultation with other countries … [but] this is too early to do it.
“It doesn’t arise at this summit.”
The Abbott government has promised to review Australia’s emissions reduction targets early next year.
But there is growing urgency from environmental groups for the government to define what its post-2020 target will be and how that will contribute to international efforts to keep global warming below two degrees, which scientists say would avoid the worst effects of climate change.
“Other countries have got their process going already to define their post-2020 targets,” Climate Institute deputy director Erwin Jackson said.
“The real tragedy in Australia is we’re focusing on 2020 and not on 2050, which is where international negotiations are headed.
“We’ve got to be lifting our game beyond the short term.”