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Australia isolated over Kyoto

Australia's massive energy exports make it a major contributor to global warming
Australia's massive energy exports make it a major contributor to global warming  

By Grant Holloway
CNN Sydney

CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- Australia appears to be softening its opposition to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on global warming in the face of its increasing isolation on the issue.

The announcements at the global environment summit in Johannesburg that Russia, China and most likely Canada, will ratify the agreement leaves Australia out on a limb, with only the United States for company amongst developed nations.

Any decision by Canada to ratify is particularly damaging for Australia's reputation, as that nation shares a similar resource-based export economy and undermines Australia's argument that it is a special case.

Prime Minister John Howard indicated Wednesday the first hints that Australia could change its position on the treaty.

"If we become convinced in the months ahead that it's in Australia's interest to sign the protocol, we'll sign it," Howard told Southern Cross radio listeners.

Global balance: Johannesburg Summit 2002 How to preserve the planet and make this a Green Century 
During 1990s, 2.4% of world's forest destroyed  
World's population to reach 8 billion by 2025  
By 2025, 50% of world's population to face water shortages  
In 1981, fossil fuels generated 86% of energy; today it's 81%  
Official site: Johannesburg Summit 2002 

He said that Australia was already going a long way to meeting the Kyoto targets regardless of ratification.

"But our concern at the moment about ratifying Kyoto is that we don't know what the obligations in the next two assessment periods are," he said.

"And unlike most developed countries, Australia is a net exporter of energy and that puts us in a very special position.

"And we don't want to take on burdens that will leave our energy industries, in particular, in an uncompetitive position with competitor countries in our part of the world that are not part of the international protocol."

Australia competes fiercely with countries such as Indonesia and Qatar to sell energy exports like coal and gas into Asian markets.

It recently sealed a deal to exclusively sell $16 billion (Aust. $25 billion) of liquefied natural gas to China over the next 25 years.

Greens spokesperson Ben Oquist told CNN Wednesday that the prime minister's statements represented a significant shift in stance by the Australian government.

He said the momentum to ratify and implement Kyoto was now unstoppable and if Australia continued to resist, its businesses would find themselves locked out of the global carbon-trading system.

Oquist said Australia was now likely to ratify the treaty, although he was uncertain when that would eventuate.


Australia is the world's worst per capita emitter of greenhouse gas thanks mainly to its large export industry of coal and gas and a low population.

The 1997 U.N. protocol requires industrialized countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

Under the agreement Australia, however, gained considerable concessions and only would need to cuts its emissions to 108 percent of 1990 levels.

Australia has also come under fire from Pacific island nations over its Kyoto stance.

A number of low-lying nations such as Tuvalu -- which is already suffering from rising sea-levels -- say Australia should be championing their cause globally rather than siding with the United States, the world's single largest air polluter.




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