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BOB CARR ON FRIDAY, 30TH OF MARCH, 2012

Bob Carr.

FOREIGN Minister Bob Carr has volunteered Australia to give evidence on behalf of poor nations that want the United Nations to investigate if big emitters - potentially including Australia - have a legal responsibility to keep their greenhouse gases from hurting other countries.

In an interview with The Saturday Age in New York, Mr Carr said he had told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Australia would give evidence supporting a push led by Palau for a UN resolution asking the International Court of Justice to assess how much countries were responsible for the damage their emissions did overseas.

Climate law experts said that if the resolution was successful, it could be the first step by worst-affected nations in seeking reparations from countries such as the US, China and Australia.

But the countries behind the push said their aim was to use International Court of Justice expertise to increase diplomatic pressure to cut emissions faster, not cast blame.

Mr Carr said Australia was in a good position to support the resolution, despite its reliance on fossil fuels, because it was introducing a carbon price.

Asked later to clarify Australia's position, he said the government was concerned about the ''existential threat'' to small island states from climate change and rising sea levels.

''We are very sympathetic to this cause and with my colleagues, including the minister for climate change, we will examine the draft resolution and finalise the Australian government's position.''

Legal experts and climate campaigners doubted the Palau-led bid, backed by 17 countries, would succeed and questioned Mr Carr's motives.

Ian Fry, an Australian who represents the island nation of Tuvalu at climate negotiations, said the Palau led-push could publicise the plight of poor countries but was unlikely to lead to a legal decision in their favour due to the complexity of apportioning blame for climate change.

He said Mr Carr's stance was hypocritical given Australia had refused to raise its greenhouse target or commit to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only emissions reduction treaty.

''It is obviously a bit tokenistic, trying to garner support for Australia's campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council,'' he said. ''If you took this to a logical conclusion you would be saying Australia would be helping legal action against Australia. While Australia's global emissions are not as high as some countries', in per capita terms they are very high.''

Andrew Macintosh, from the Australian National University Centre for Climate Law and Policy, said it was unlikely the UN push would lead to a decision apportioning legal responsibility for climate change.

''Even if the case was successful, I can't see China or the US or India backtracking on the basis of an International Court of Justice decision,'' he said.

''And the idea of us giving evidence on behalf of these developing countries would be strange in the extreme given our history and our levels of pollution.''

Mr Carr met Mr Ban while at a disaster risk mitigation summit. He emphasised the urgency of combating climate change and pledged $1 million to help representatives from small nations to attend the Rio+20 environment summit in June.

Members of the Ambassadors for Responsibility on Climate Change include Bangladesh, Fiji, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.

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