Australia lagging behind on climate change: expert
Australia's direct action response is much weaker than policies being adopted by other countries, including the US and China, says Professor Michael Raupach.
Fundamental differences over climate-change policy continue to hamper Tony Abbott's capacity to build links in the US as both President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon want more support from Australia for international action on carbon dioxide emissions.
Mr Abbott meets Mr Obama in the White House on Thursday (2am Friday AEST) for their first formal talks, and the issue of global warming is likely to arise. It is already the subject of pre-positioning by both sides.
Mr Obama recently announced a 30 per cent cut in emissions from coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, which he hopes to achieve through a combination of regulation and through delivering a price on carbon.
Mr Abbott, however, has made his opposition to carbon pricing and to binding international agreement even clearer. He used a visit to Canada before arriving in New York to caucus with the like-minded conservative leader Stephen Harper to publicly reinforce their contempt for carbon pricing. The two men expressed a newly articulated view against global limits, arguing individual countries should be free to determine their own action as long as there was no cost to economic growth.
In his meeting with Mr Ban on Tuesday, Mr Abbott sidestepped accepting an invitation to attend a UN-sponsored international conference on climate policy later this year.
The summit has been timed to precede the annual UN General Assembly session in September in a bid to maximise the involvement of leaders attending that session.
However, Fairfax Media understands Mr Abbott has no plans to attend either, despite the session coming towards the end of Australia's membership of the elite UN Security Council.
A carefully worded read-out from the Abbott/Ban talks glossed over their climate differences.
But in a separate interview, Mr Ban's spokesman on climate change, Dan Thomas, expressed disappointment.
In response to Mr Abbott's statement that there were bigger problems than climate change, Mr Thomas said: ''We think that climate change should be the No.1 priority for all leaders to consider.''
The UN is looking for bold statements from leading countries in the hope of piercing a growing climate reluctance licensed in part by resistance from resource-rich countries such as Australia and Canada.
''It's an opportunity to step up; we expect, we very much hope Australia will be there with them,'' Mr Thomas said.
Mr Abbott's stance on climate action has also drawn criticism from retiring US politician Henry Waxman, who was at the forefront of clean energy bills in America.
Mr Waxman said Australia, along with Canada, risked being ''behind-the-scenes laggers'' rather than leaders on climate policy.
Both nations risked being out of sync with Europe and the US. ''I hope Australia doesn't turn its back on its leadership role and become a drag on what we need to all be doing around the world,'' Mr Waxman told ABC's 7.30 on Wednesday.
The retiring senior Democrat also criticised the Coalition government's ''voluntary'' direct action policy as ineffectual. ''That never worked anywhere,'' he said.
On his final full day in New York, Mr Abbott also moved to future-proof his diplomatic links through meetings with leaders likely to face off in the 2016 election.
He met with Jeb Bush, son and brother of two former presidents, who is widely tipped to be the Republican nomination in 2016.
But an attempted meeting with Hillary Clinton will now take place by phone because of scheduling difficulties associated with Ms Clinton's latest book promotion.
Speaking earlier in the day at the New York Stock Exchange, where he again declared Australia was once more ''open for business'', Mr Abbott said climate change was not the world's most pressing problem.
''There is no argument about the need for strong action on climate change. There is some argument about the best way to achieve that … we are not going to have any rear-guard action in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme in Australia. We're going to take direct action to get our emissions down,'' he said.
On Thursday, Mr Abbott again reiterated his opposition to action on climate change that would ''clobber'' the economy and jobs, saying the scale of the government's direct action policy was ''evidence of our deep seriousness'' on the issue.
Mr Abbott is expected to seek assurances from the Obama administration that its vaunted ''pivot'' to the Asia-Pacific is proceeding, while it is possible his views on China will be sought following his recent successful visit to Beijing.