Australia won't copy Britain's carbon targets

CANBERRA (Reuters) - The Australian government on Monday ruled out following Britain with a tougher target for carbon emissions by 2050, saying business needed certainty over targets in the run-up to carbon trading.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said Australia had set an ambitious target to cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050, and the target would not change.

“The government position is that 60 percent, particularly for an economy like Australia’s, is an ambitious target,” Wong told a parliamentary hearing Monday.

“It is the figure with which we went to the election, it is very clearly the figure that we have committed to and in relation to which we have a mandate.”

Britain’s Energy and Climate Minister Ed Miliband last week increased Britain’s target for greenhouse emissions, blamed for global warming, to 80 percent from 60 percent by 2050, winning praise from green groups for the tougher stand.

But conservation groups in Australia are worried Australia’s target, and a yet-to-be announced interim target by 2020, will be too low to help the world avoid rising temperatures due to climate change.

Australia plans to introduce one of the world’s most comprehensive carbon emissions trading schemes across its $1 trillion economy in mid-2010 as part of its strategy to fight climate change and curb greenhouse emissions.

The government will detail its plans by the end of the year, with laws to set up a cap-and-trade carbon trading system to be put to Australia’s parliament in 2009.

Wong said the government would stick to its timetable for carbon trading and would not bow to big business demands to delay the scheme due to the global financial crisis.

“It is a consistent view put to me as minister that one of the things government can do is to provide certainty for business,” Wong said. “Delay on this front would lead to business uncertainty.”

Big resource companies, including BHP Billiton and oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum, want the government to change the scheme or delay its start, warning it would force business to move work offshore.

Under the scheme, business would have to buy carbon permits to cover pollution, ensuring they have a financial incentive to curb emissions.

Australia’s biggest polluters, with more than 2,000 tonnes of emissions per A$1 million of revenue, would initially pay for only 10 percent of their emissions.

Australia is the world’s 16th biggest carbon polluter, producing about 1.5 percent of the world’s global emissions. But Australia is the fourth largest emitter per person, with five times the pollution per person of China.

Wong said Treasury modeling on the economic impact of carbon trading would be released by the end of October.

Editing by Alex Richardson