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Rule changes to ease Australia's carbon task

Australia will reap millions in carbon permit sales and easily meet half its 5 per cent greenhouse reduction target if allowed to claim cuts to land clearing and native forest logging under new global carbon accounting rules, a new report says.

Australian National University climate law expert Andrew Macintosh said the new rules, being discussed at this week's global climate summit in South Africa, would generate ''a significant windfall'' for the Gillard Government.

Under new rules almost certain to be adopted, Australia can claim credits for cutting its deforestation emissions. This in turn will slash the number of overseas carbon offset permits Australia would need to buy to meet a commitment to cut 737 million tonnes of carbon by 2020 under the Kyoto climate change treaty.

Mr Macintosh said Australia had been expected to be ''a large importer of permits, but this will no longer be the case'' if allowed to claim cuts to previously high levels of land clearing in Queensland and NSW, as well as a market-driven decline in native timber harvesting. The federal government will be able to generate more revenue by selling carbon permits, and potentially earn ''ten of millions, potentially billions'' as a result.

''Even if harvesting rates of Australia's native forests stay at current levels, we will generate at least 12 million tonnes of carbon offsets a year, with a total of 96 million tonnes by 2020,'' he said.

''What these figures show is Australia cannot claim it faces a massive task to cut emissions by 5 per cent. We will already be half-way there once these new accounting rules kick in.''

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The ANU research paper coincides with publication of an analysis by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and global energy consulting firm Ecofys, tracking the emission reduction targets and actions of all countries attending the global climate summit in Durban.

The report rates Australia's 5 per cent target as ''inadequate'', but says recent carbon pricing legislation is ''a step in the right direction''.

Despite its new carbon pollution reduction laws, Australia failed to make the report's top 10 list of countries leading the world in climate change initiatives.

At the top of the list was the Maldives, the only nation to be given ''role model status'' because of its pledge to become climate-neutral by 2020.

The tiny island nation is followed by Bhutan, Costa Rica, Japan, Norway, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Brazil, Chile and Iceland.

Australian Greens deputy leader Senator Christine Milne said the Gillard Government needed to ''ditch [its] 5 per cent target'' and commit to a 24 to 40 per cent cut by 2020.