Canberra, Australia — Australia, which refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol onclimate change, will ask other nations to contribute to a new fund to combatdeforestation and global warming, Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday.
Howard said his government would give A$200 million (US$161 million) overfive years to the World Bank-backed fund to help stop forest destruction.
Opposition and environmental groups dismissed the scheme as vote-getting ployand hit out at the conservative government for refusing to ratify the globalKyoto pact, which sets goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions blamed forglobal warning.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Germany and New Zealand had indicatedstrong interest in Canberra’s plan, while Britain and the United States werealso positive.
“What this initiative will do, in a shorter period of time, is make agreater contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions than in fact the KyotoProtocol,” Howard said.
Howard’s comments came a day after he rejected a personal plea from Britishclimate economist Nicholas Stern to urgently ratify the Kyoto Protocol and slashgreenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 to help fight globalwarming.
Howard said Stern’s warning that inaction could be catastrophic should not betreated as a “holy writ” for Australia’s thermal coal reliant economy.
“I accept that climate change is a big issue, I’m not walking away fromit, but I am not going to compromise the economic strengths of our country andput at risk thousands of jobs by commitment to a target that is unreasonablyshort, unreasonably harsh,” he said, adding the fund was more “practical”than Kyoto.
Opposition Greens Senator Bob Brown said after six years of drought and withclimate change shaping as a key issue in elections later this year, Howard wastrying to burnish his green credentials.
“Our prime minister is a forest fool. It’s a stunning piece of hypocrisythat he is putting US$200 million into stopping forest burning in Southeast Asiawhile he is authorising forest burning in southern Australia,” Brown toldreporters.
The Wilderness Society said Howard should halt logging of natural forests athome before pointing the finger at developing nations Indonesia and Brazil.
Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Canberra’s money would be mostlyspent in neighbouring Indonesia, where illegal logging strips 2.1 million ha(5.2 million acres) of forest every year in trade worth US$4 billion.
“This is our big chance to give the world a breathing space,” hesaid. Australia’s money would allow satellite and radar monitoring of thelogging problem, as well as tree planting.
Downer said Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island nations like Vanuatu and theSolomon Islands would also be targeted.
The fund would be modelled on a climate pact drawing together six of theworld’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters — Australia, China, the US, Japan,India and South Korea — dubbed the “pack of dirty polluters” byenvironmentalists.
Howard denied Australia’s fund contribution was insignificant when comparedto the US$10 billion that Stern had estimated was needed to fight deforestationglobally.
“I would expect very significant contributions from other countries,”he said. The money would be channelled through aid organisations.