Australia takes step to CO2 trade, aids Copenhagen
CANBERRA/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Australia took a step toward carbon trading on Tuesday when the opposition promised to support a revised government scheme, aiding the outlook for a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen next month.
Elsewhere, a group of leading scientists called for urgent action at the December 7-18 meeting to rein in climate change, saying the pace of warming was accelerating and that world sea levels could rise by at worst 2 meters (6-1/2 ft) by 2100.
Australia's opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said conservative senators would vote for a revised carbon trading scheme later this week, ending a long-running deadlock that could have forced a snap election.
"I am confident enough Senators will comply with the shadow cabinet and that the legislation will pass," Turnbull said. The revised plan by the center-left government raises compensation to big carbon emitters, coal firms and electricity generators.
Analysts say action by Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter and one of the world's highest per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases, might encourage other big industrial emitters such as the United States and Canada to do more.
But divisions over the scheme run deep in Australia's opposition. Some members are threatening to vote against it or try to have the Senate vote, expected on Thursday, delayed until February 2010.
The scheme is due to start in July 2011, cover 1,000 of Australia's biggest polluters and 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. It would be the most comprehensive carbon trade scheme outside the European Union in terms of the percentage of emissions covered.
In a "Copenhagen Diagnosis" report, 26 leading scientists urged action to cap rising world greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 or 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change such as heatwaves, floods, disease and droughts.
"Climate change is accelerating beyond expectations," a joint statement said, pointing to factors including a retreat of Arctic sea ice in summer and melting of Greenland's ice sheet.
"Global sea-level rise may exceed one meter by 2100, with a rise of up to two meters considered an upper limit," it said.
Many of the authors were on the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2007 foresaw a sea level rise of 18-59 cms (7-24 inches) by 2100 but did not take account of a possible accelerating melt of Greenland and Antarctica.
In Strasbourg, European Commissioner Stavros Dimas said a U.S. promise on Monday to set a target for reining in its greenhouse gas emissions would help prospects for Copenhagen but said a deal would fail without cash to help developing nations.
"A positive stance from the United States would have spillover effects on other countries in terms of improving the prospects of success at Copenhagen," Dimas said. The United States is the number two emitter behind China.
A senior Obama administration official said on Monday that Washington would make clear in the "next several days" what it planned to offer at Copenhagen including a greenhouse gas emissions goal in line with proposals in the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. House passed a bill that sets a 17 percent reduction target for emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels. A Senate version is shooting for a 20 percent cut. Those work out at about 4 to 7 percent below 1990 levels respectively.
Most rich nations are promising deeper cuts -- the EU is promising a unilateral 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, or 30 percent if other nations join in. But pledges fall short of demands by China and India of cuts of at least 40 percent by 2020 below 1990 levels, the benchmark year in U.N. treaties.
In Copenhagen, the government said it had nominated Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard, a leading organizer of the Copenhagen talks, to become the European Union's first climate commissioner.
Denmark expects about 65 world leaders to attend the end of the Copenhagen talks and agree a "politically binding agreement" even though most nations reckon that a legally binding treaty is now out of reach with disputes over emissions and aid.
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