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The target set by Abbott—who will not attend the talks in person—falls well below the goal recommended by Australia's government body of independent experts, the Climate Change Authority. (Photo: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The target set by Abbott—who will not attend the talks in person—falls well below the goal recommended by Australia's government body of independent experts, the Climate Change Authority. (Photo: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia's Weak COP21 Climate Goal Sends 'Shudder Through the Pacific'

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's target falls well short of what his government's experts say is needed to stave off a climate crisis

Sarah Lazare

Environmental campaigners, scientists, and officials blasted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday for unrolling dismally low greenhouse gas reduction goals for the upcoming United Nations talks in Paris, charging that the government of the country—already one of the worst carbon polluters in the world—is poised to dramatically worsen the global climate crisis.

In a statement released Tuesday, Abbott's office said Australia will set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions "so they are 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030"—the equivalent to 19 per cent from 2000 levels by 2030, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

The goal will be submitted to the United Nations ahead of the Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) climate talks in Paris, as is the requirement of all 195 member states. A final target will be agreed to once an international accord is reached. 

The target set by Abbott—who will not attend the talks in person—falls well below the goal recommended by Australia's government body of independent experts, the Climate Change Authority, which concluded last month that the country must cut emissions from 40 to 60 percent below 2000 levels by 2030 in order to do its part to prevent the earth from heating over two degrees Celsius.

Furthermore, as the London-headquartered group Climate Action points out, "The selection of 2005 instead of 2000 as the benchmark year of emissions has faced stern criticism with 2005 being recognized as a year of particularly high levels of GHG emissions."

Climate campaigners were not surprised, given Abbott's track record of adopting policies that favor the country's large coal industry, including his opposition to a proposed carbon tax last year. However, they did express alarm about the dangerous repercussions for people and the planet.

Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said Tuesday that Australia's "weak" target will "send a serious shudder through the Pacific and raise concern amongst its closest allies."

"This seems to be another example of Australian exceptional ism when it comes to tackling the biggest economic, environmental, and security challenge of the 21st Century," de Brum added. "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."

The Sydney-based think tank Climate Institute denounced the target as "bad for the climate," adding: "If other countries took the same approach as the government announced today, the world would warm by 3-4°C."

Kelly O'Shanassy, head of the ACF, said in a statement released Tuesday that "It's a defeatist target that shows no faith in the ability of Australians to adapt, innovate and make the transition to a clean economy."

"This target is lower than the upper end of Australia’s existing target of 5–25 per cent by 2020, but it adds a decade and leaves the next generation to pick up the tab," O'Shanassy continued. "Unfortunately the government seems determined to do the bidding of the big polluters and keep our economy handcuffed to last century's energy sources—coal and gas."

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