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Australia's climate plans aim low

Australia pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 5 to 15 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, targets that are far less than what scientists say is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / December 15, 2008

The early morning sky illuminates dead trees and cracked earth on a farm near Kerang, about 224 miles north of Melbourne, in this 2007 file photo. From 2002 to 2008, Australia experienced its worst drought in 100 years.

Tim Wimborne/Reuters/File

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Australia pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 5 to 15 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, targets that are far less than what scientists say is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change.

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In a speech Monday, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that a minimum 5 percent target was unconditional. Australia would cut its carbon emissions by that number, "irrespective of the actions of other nations."

But if there is a global agreement by which all industrialized countries pledge to significantly reduce their emissions, then Australia would increase that commitment to a 15 percent cut, Mr. Rudd said.

Down under other countries' targets

Australia's targets are less ambitious than that of the European Union. On Friday, EU leaders announced a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20 percent, compared with 1990 levels, by 2020. In the United States, President Barack Obama's campaign website promises reductions of 80 percent by 2050.

The targets are also well below what climate scientists recommend. According to a major 2007 report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the developed world cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent, atmospheric CO2 concentrations could be stabilized at 450 parts per million, a figure that the panel concluded is a threshold best not crossed if we wish to avert the worst effects of climate change.

But a report [PDF] published this year by leading scientists in The Open Atmospheric Science Journal found that the UN panel did not take certain feedback loops into account, and revised this figure to 350 parts per million. This number, the report concluded, should be respected “[i]f humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.”

Current atmospheric concentrations are at about 387 parts per million and rising.

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