Australia's Rudd will sign Kyoto pact if wins vote

CANBERRA, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Australia's Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd said on Monday he would lead his country's delegation to December's Bali climate summit and sign the Kyoto pact if he wins power at this weekend's parliamentary elections.

Rudd, strongly leading conservative prime minister and Kyoto critic John Howard in polls, said the fight against catastrophic climate shift would be his top priority if he won on Nov. 24.

"I want to simply demonstrate that we have gone from outside the tent to inside the tent, I think it is important to make that statement," Rudd told the Australian Financial Review.

Australia, the world's biggest greenhouse polluter per head, has along with the United States refused to sign the Kyoto pact, with Howard arguing it would harm the economy and cost jobs.

Rudd, if he wins, would further isolate the United States on climate issues and send a message internationally that Australia intends to work closely with the United Nations on a post-Kyoto treaty.

"There is no better way to reinforce that than prime ministerial attendance. It would be a way of indicating ... that we intend to be globally, diplomatically active," Rudd said.

The U.N. climate conference in Bali in December will kick off negotiations on a post-Kyoto accord to fight greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming.

Rudd would be one of few leaders to attend, with the meeting drawing mostly environment ministers in a bid to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first period ends in 2012.

The summit follows a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warning that without urgent action to slash greenhouse emissions within 15 years, dangerous temperature rises will occur globally, causing drought, floods and food shortages.

With Australia's six-week election race in its final days, Howard said the world would not end any time soon due to climate change, although he acknowledged it posed a serious challenge.

"The world is not coming to an end tomorrow. Like all of these things we have to get a common sense, balanced approach," Howard told local media. "You need a new international agreement that includes countries like China."

Climate change and Kyoto are among the few major differences between the 11-year veteran Howard and Rudd, who has called for "fresh thinking" and reform of education, health and labour laws. Rudd will also pull Australian combat troops out of Iraq.

Labor is on track to win key swing seats needed for its first election victory in 14 years, several polls showed on Monday.

In another blow to Howard's hopes, a former conservative leader in the most populous New South Wales state broke ranks with his national colleagues and said Australia should have signed the Kyoto pact years ago.

"Then we could have led the world with bold initiatives in clean energy," Peter Debnam told an energy conference, attacking Howard's goals to develop clean coal technology and nuclear energy.

Howard is struggling to overturn a mood for change, particularly among younger voters, despite an economic expansion lasting 16 years and unemployment at 33-year lows. (Editing by Rosalind Russell)