Will they mention climate? Photo: Getty
President Barack Obama’s tougher climate change policy is likely to add pressure on other countries, including Australia, to increase their own efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a US-based analyst said.
The US President is expected to reveal plans later on Monday to cut carbon emissions at existing power plants by 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, his biggest move aimed at halting global warming.
“A lot of countries have used US inaction on this issue as an excuse either to not act, or to not act with significant ambition,” said Michael Obeiter, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute in Washington D.C. “We know other countries - Australia included, but China in particular - are looking at what the US is doing on climate.”
Light at the end of coal's tunnel? Photo: Ben Langford
President Obama has signalled he intends to make action on climate change a signature domestic policy in his second term. The US has reportedly asked Australia to include the issue at the G-20 leaders’ summit planned for November in Brisbane.
“I’d be surprised if the President didn’t push allies in the G-20 to increase their ambition as well on climate change,” Mr Obeiter said.
Washington’s increased US interest in curbing emissions may potentially prove a point of difference with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has made public his doubts about about climate change. The PM is heading to Washington later this month.
"While Tony Abbott is on his way to meet with Barack Obama, the President will be taking his next big step towards meaningful action on climate change by announcing new carbon pollution limits on power plants," said Mark Butler, Labor's climate change spokesman.
"Tony Abbott’s refusal to accept the magnitude of climate change is sending Australia backwards while the rest of the world moves forward," he said.
Comment is being sought from the government.
Mr Abbott last week reportedly told miners dinner it was “Australia’s destiny” to bring “affordable energy to the world”, and warned against demonising the coal industry.
'Out of step'
Greens Leader Christine Milne said the climate policies of the Abbott government were looking more out of line every day with the actions being taken by other economies.
Senator Milne said it was no longer good enough for Mr Abbott to claim he was waiting the rest of the world to move on climate change – because that call had been met and Australia was now falling behind.
“Just as President Obama is revving up in the states for cap and trade…here in Australia we have Tony Abbott about to abandon the very thing that the rest of the world is reaching for,” Senator Milne said.
“Tony Abbott is completely out of step," she said.
Renewables push or pushback?
The new US policy would see states be given wide flexibility to meet the emission reduction goals, including investing in new renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, according to the New York Times.
“We’re going to need to see ambitious action to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from every country,” Mr Obeiter said.
While the Abbott government retains the bipartisan policy of cutting Australia’s 2000 levels of carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, it has vowed to scrap the Gillard-Rudd governments' carbon price. It also revealed plans to axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency in last month's budget.
In addition, the government-picked panel led by climate change sceptic Dick Warburton is expected to recommend delays or reductions in the Renewable Energy Target – an action if taken that would also see Australia diverge from the US path.
“Tabling or pausing or repealing policies that push countries towards cleaner sources of energy is short-sighted,” Mr Obeiter said.
Heather Zichal, formerly President Obama’s chief climate change advisor told Fairfax Media in March that the US would monitor closely the carbon policies of other nations.
“The administration will be watching closely to see what other countries are doing to act and what they will be bringing to the table in Paris,'' Ms Zichal said, referring to the 2015 climate summit planned for the French capital.
The US policy could see many coal-fired power plants close, a move likely to spark political and possibly legal action.
While new coal plants may be 30-40 per cent cleaner than old ones, they are still likely to be dirtier than other sources, such as natural gas. Gas, though, is also likely to be too-emissions intensive for the long-term, if emissions are to fall far enough to halt climate change, Mr Obeiter said.
“Beyond 2030 or so, we’re going to need emissions from the power sector to come down below the rate at which natural gas plants emit,” he said.
with Lisa Cox