BEIJING Drought-hit Australia may offer a
warning of how climate change threatens core human needs, as
the continent's food bowl faces the prospect of having
irrigation cut off, Britain's climate change ambassador said.
Canberra has said it will halt irrigation to an area that
usually grows over a third of the country's farm produce, if
heavy rain does not fall in the next few weeks.
"If that happens, that is not just an economic blow to
Australia, it will do significant damage beyond Australia
because of its effect on world food prices," John Ashton told
Reuters during a visit to the Chinese capital.
"That is a current threat which almost certainly, or at
least very probably, arises from human-induced climate change."
Australia faced an "unprecedentedly dangerous" drought,
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said last week. Parts of
the country have been stricken for a decade.
Ashton, Britain's Special Representative on Climate Change,
said growing worries about global warming should not translate
into tight short-term emissions caps for developing nations.
Rich countries responsible for most of the global warming
gases currently in the atmosphere should instead channel more
funds to poor nations to curb emissions growth, he added.
"It's right that we should lead the effort," he said. "Most
of the excess burden of emissions which is in the atmosphere at
the moment is the result of (industrial nations') development."
"Furthermore, we have more of the capital, more of the
innovative capacity, more of the capacity to shield ourselves
from some of the worst consequences of climate change," he
added, echoing Beijing's position that it should not be
penalized for other countries' past industrialisation.
The Kyoto Protocol, which sets emissions caps for many
wealthy signatory countries while setting none for poorer ones
such as China, will expire in 2012. Australia has refused to
sign the protocol, saying it is ineffective and economically
Ashton said the successor to Kyoto should massively expand
the Clean Development Mechanism, a system that allows developed
world polluters to fund emissions cuts in poorer countries and
put them towards their own quotas, he added.
Beijing could become the world's biggest emitter of
greenhouse gasses as early as this year, upping international
pressure for action.
It has rejected caps on emissions for decades to come,
saying they may hurt growth, but the United States is unlikely
to sign up for a post-Kyoto regime that does not have targets
Ashton said he was not in Beijing to try to get commitments
on emissions, however, preferring to push a restructuring of
the country's dirty energy infrastructure and more carbon
"I think a much more productive conversation with China is
how we can help them build an alignment between energy security
and climate security," he told Reuters.
Although prickly about rising global attention on Chinese
emissions, officials are increasingly worried about
temperatures that have risen faster in China than global
averages and may threaten food and water supplies, Ashton said.
"Even since last year...it is on the agenda of a much wider
range of people including people in leadership positions who
until pretty recently would have been pretty difficult to
engage on climate change," Ashton said.