(For other news from the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit,
* Australia resolute against calls to put issue on Summit
* Climate stance risks political reputation, investment -MP
* New gov't has taken several seemingly anti-green measures
By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY, Oct 17 Business and political leaders
around the world, most notably in the powerhouses of the United
States and China, are pressing for action to avert the
potentially huge financial repercussions of climate change.
But this year there's a major stumbling block to concerted
global action. The most vocal climate change sceptic in the
Group of 20 leading industrialised nations is its current host,
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tempered his public rhetoric
since 2009 when he said the science behind climate change was
"crap". But he has left the issue off the agenda for the G20
Leaders' Summit in Brisbane on Nov. 15-16.
Abbott has dismayed environmentalists, renewable energy
companies and countries with a string of decisions since his
conservative government came to power last year, including
scrapping a carbon tax introduced by the previous Labor
His treasurer, Joe Hockey, drew derision earlier this week
when he told a reporter that claims Australia is one of the
dirtiest countries were "absolutely ridiculous". Yet data shows
Australia is the developed world's highest carbon emitter per
"The problem for Australia is that the rest of the world is
now moving forward," Mark Butler, member of parliament and
environment spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, told the
Reuters Global Climate Change Summit.
Australia's stance, particularly attempts by the government
to cut the country's renewable energy target, would have a
"devastating impact" on investment in Australia's sustainable
power generation industry, he said.
"The U.S. and China in particular seem determined to do
everything they can to ... sign an ambitious global agreement,"
"Australia really does run the risk of being left in the
room with Canada ... and a pretty small group of nations that
stubbornly hold out on participating in a broad process, and
that's going to be politically very damaging for Australia."
Abbott's office did not respond to repeated telephone calls
from Reuters seeking comment.
The United States and several European countries have
pressured Australia to put climate change on the G20 Summit
agenda, but Abbott has repeatedly said the issue does not fit
the meeting's economic focus - a stance supported by Canada.
"The focus of the G20 will overwhelmingly be our economic
security, our financial stabilisation, the importance of private
sector-led growth," Abbott told reporters earlier this year.
He has agreed to put energy efficiency on the agenda
following discussions with U.S. president Barack Obama. Whether
other countries hijack sessions to cover climate change or talk
in the corridors remains to be seen.
The United States says climate change is inextricably
intertwined with economic and financial issues such as those
highlighted by Abbott.
Shaun Donovan, director of the White House's Office of
Management and Budget, told the Reuters summit that combating
climate change was imperative for fiscal reasons.
Speaking in Washington, Donovan said the cost of climate
change-related events on the federal budget is enormous.
Among other incidences, he noted a drought in the United
States in 2012 that was the most severe since the 1930s, and the
roughly $65 billion spent after Hurricane Sandy struck in the
In Australia, climate change is a major threat to food
security in a country that has talked about becoming a "food
bowl" for Asia. It also complicates a government plan to
increase agricultural production to meet an expected doubling in
global food demand by 2050.
As the only developed nation dominated by an arid climate,
Australia faces more variability in rainfall, prolonged droughts
and a greater incidence of extreme weather events, the country's
flagship scientific body CSIRO said.
"As a country that's very, very vulnerable in an ecosystem
sense to climate change, we have to be seen to do our part
because we expect relatively poorer countries like China and
much poorer countries like India to do something as well,"
Labor's Butler said.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) Environment at a Glance 2013 report found Australia had
the highest per-capita emissions among developed nations,
emitting nearly 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person in 2010.
Furthermore, a report last month from consultancy PwC found
that major economies are falling behind every year in terms of
meeting the rate of carbon emission reductions needed to stop
temperatures rising more than 2 degrees this century.
Against that backdrop, Abbott in July repealed a tax on
climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions for its 350 biggest
companies, saying the scheme was too costly while achieving
little in terms of emission cuts.
He also cut funding to the CSIRO and abolished the
independent Climate Commission, a body created by the previous
government to provide public information on the effects of
The government is now negotiating with the opposition to cut
Australia's renewable energy target (RET). Electricity use has
fallen in the past five years because of rising bills and
cheaper renewable energy options such as rooftop solar. That,
the government says, renders outdated an RET of 20 percent of
projected energy use in 2020.
Changing the target, however, would have a "devastating
impact," said Labor's Butler. "It would largely kill any chance
of significant new investment."
Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Hunt initially
accepted an invitation to the Reuters summit, but pulled out
citing other engagements.
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(Additional reporting by Byron Kaye in SYDNEY and Valerie
Volcovici in LONDON; Editing by Christopher Cushing)