Supporters of the Kyoto Protocol were gleeful on Saturday after Australian
elections left the United States in the wilderness as the only major economy to
boycott the UN's climate pact.
The ouster of Prime Minister John Howard stripped President George W. Bush of a
key ally barely a week before a conference in Bali, Indonesia, on the world's
response to climate change beyond 2012, they said.
"It's great news for the Kyoto Protocol," Shane Rattenburg, Greenpeace's
political director, told AFP.
"It's a very important event in the international climate debate, and for Bali.
It will leave Bush and the United States more isolated."
Industrialised countries that have signed and ratified the Protocol are required
to meet targeted curbs in their greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012.
In March 2001, in one of his first acts in office, Bush declared he would not
submit the deal to US Senate ratification.
He has been steadfastly supported by Howard, a fellow conservative who argued
that Kyoto was a waste of time as it lacks the world's biggest emitter and
tougher commitments from China and other emerging giants.
Howard's successor, Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, has said that he will seek
ratification of Kyoto as soon as possible and also attend the Bali gathering.
The December 3-14 conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) faces a Herculean task.
It must set down a roadmap for negotiations over the next two years that will
have to deliver massive emissions cuts beyond 2012 and shore up support for poor
countries facing the brunt of climate change.
A European diplomat said Howard's departure would hamper US efforts to coax
support from two other countries whose governments, eyeing the cost of meeting
their Kyoto pledges, could waver at Bali.
"We're pleased about the (election) outcome," he told AFP. "It puts more
pressure on the United States and it helps us better handle the Canadians and
Rattenburg said that Australia, under Howard, had often played a "wrecking role"
at the annual UNFCCC negotiations, such as demanding concessions for its
forestry and striving to weaken or unpick deals.
WWF's climate-change director, Hans Verolme, thought it unlikely that Rudd would
have time to settle into office and play "a stronger, more positive role" at
Bali itself. "But at least they (the Australians) won't play a negative role
anymore," he said.
He also believed that US isolation would boost the fast-growing climate lobby in
Washington, which is clamouring for America "to return to the negotiating table
and take on an absolute emissions-reduction target."
Such a prospect is only possible after Bush leaves office, said Verolme.
Australia accounts for less than two percent of global emissions of greenhouse
gases, although it is a huge exporter of coal, one of the principal sources of
the warming problem.
If it ratifies Kyoto, that will still mean only around 30 percent of planetary
emissions will come under the treaty's binding targets.
The world's biggest polluters are the United States and China, which account for
roughly half of the total. But the US snubbed Kyoto and China is a developing
country, so neither have binding emissions goals.
A total of 172 countries and government entities have ratified the Protocol,
which came into force on February 16, 2005. Thirty-six of them, plus the
European Union (EU) as a party in its own right, are required to make targeted
emissions curbs, concerning six greenhouse gases.
Despite his victory, ratification of Kyoto raises a dilemma for Rudd.
Meeting the country's original 2012 target would entail stringent, costly and
probably unpopular measures in raising energy efficiency and switching to
Australia had originally pledged to keep emissions growth to eight percent above
1990 levels. As of 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, it was
25.6 percent above the 1990 benchmark, according to UNFCCC figures issued last
The country, a voracious burner of fossil fuels, has the highest per-capita
emissions in the world.