Australia’s opposition coalition supports Kyoto 2

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Australia Parliament

Australia’s opposition Liberal party may be poised to sign up for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The party’s climate spokesman, Greg Hunt, has given his “in principle” backing to sign on.

Hunt recently spoke to The Age newspaper. He says the opposition coalition’s intention is to join a new Kyoto period, although a final decision would largely depend on the exact terms.

“What the world really needs is to bring China and India and Indonesia on board, to bring Russia and Brazil on board. I think it will be easier to strike a 2016 agreement to commence in 2020, if there is a Kyoto 2,” Hunt said, according to The Age.

If Australia signs up to a new target under Kyoto, it will become the first non-European developed nation to do so.

The first commitment period of the 1997 U.N. treaty expires this year. The agreement puts legally-binding emission targets on 40 developed countries. However, there’s been very little enthusiasm among rich countries to extend the accord.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper came under fire in recent years for pulling out of Kyoto altogether. Meanwhile, Japan and Russia have said they will not sign up for a new period, due to the low share of global emissions covered. The U.S. never ratified Kyoto. And major emitters in the developing world, such as China and India, have no targets under the treaty.

Last December, U.N.-led climate talks took place in Durban, South Africa. The Durban platform states all parties shall agree by 2015 on a new international pact to bind all emitters by 2020. And until such a deal is in place, the Kyoto Protocol is the only existing international treaty to address climate change. Observers say Hunt’s backing is likely to be welcomed by negotiators when they meet in Bangkok later this month.

Australia’s government has had its own share of controversy when it comes to dealing with climate change. Last year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard decided to introduce a carbon tax. That didn’t go over too well with the corporate crowd, who became infuriated by the Prime Minister’s decision. Meanwhile, the opposition’s anti-carbon tax agenda is hugely popular and has made the party favourites to win next year’s election by a landslide.

Australia’s final decision on a new Kyoto period is expected to be made at the U.N. talks in Doha in December.

Erwin Jackson belongs to a research group called The Climate Institute. He told Reuters Point Carbon that Hunt’s comments might make it easier for Gillard to sign up.

“This is an important development, as the biggest political obstacle to the government taking on a second commitment period is how it plays out in domestic politics.”

However, Jackson went on to say that one major concern for Australia would be whether it would have access to the U.N.-regulated carbon market if it does not sign up to Kyoto 2.