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China, India speed climate change: Australian report

Source:AFP.com Author:Neil Sands Date:03/25/14 Click:

SYDNEY (AFP) - The economic rise of China and India means climate change is occurring faster than previously thought, making efforts to fix the problem more urgent, an official Australian report found Thursday.

The government-commissioned report called for stronger international commitment to addressing climate change, saying current efforts "still fall far short of getting deep cuts in global emissions underway."

It warned Australia, already hot and dry, was more vulnerable to climate change than any other developed country and needed to lead efforts to reduce the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The government brushed aside the report's call for more ambitious climate change targets, though Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia no longer had the policy of "denial" adopted by his predecessor John Howard.

Rudd commissioned the report, written by economics professor Ross Garnaut, before his centre-left government was elected last November.

Since then, he has made action on climate change the centrepiece of his government's environmental policy, signing the Kyoto Protocol as his first act in office after Howard refused for a decade.

In his interim findings, Garnaut said rapid industrialisation in China and India meant climate change was happening faster than expected and the solution lay in finding clean methods of achieving global economic expansion.

"Due to a sustained period of high economic growth led by China and India, the world is moving towards high risks of dangerous climate change more rapidly than has been generally understood," he said.

"Faster emissions growth makes mitigation more urgent and more costly," he said. "The challenge is to end the linkage between economic growth and emissions of greenhouse gases."

Garnaut said the Rudd government needed to go beyond its existing commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050, although he did not nominate an alternative figure.

He also said Australia should set an interim target for 2020, saying a lead had been provided by the European Union, which last month pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

Garnaut said while all climate change models contained uncertainties, the seriousness of the outcomes they projected meant strong action was warranted, even if it came at an economic cost.

"Prudent risk management would suggest that it is worth the sacrifice of a significant amount of current income to avoid a small chance of a catastrophic outcome," he said.

Rudd told parliament just before the report's release that Australia was determined to become a leader in the campaign for climate change, although he made no fresh commitments on the issue.

"The government accepts that the scientific evidence is in that climate change is real, it is happening and no longer can this nation afford to be in any state of denial," he said.

The report released Thursday was an interim version and the final draft due later this year had been expected to form the basis of Rudd's climate policy.

However, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the government would also use other models when formulating what she said would be a "responsible" policy, insisting the 2050 target had not changed.

Professor Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability, said the report showed that swift action was critical.

"It's a clarion call for Australia to act -- in all of our interests," he said.

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