Australia backs out of Kyoto Protocol

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The Australian government has scrapped all work by the Australian Greenhouse Office on the Kyoto Protocol's international emissions trading market. The news comes just one month after the conclusion of the Ninth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP9) in Milan -- where new doubts surfaced about ratification of the protocol by Russia.

Australian environment minister David Kemp has frequently argued that the protocol and plans for an international market for trading emissions allowances fails to provide business opportunities for Australia. "Further research work on the greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme has ceased," confirms Kemp's department.

The decision has angered supporters of the protocol. "The European Union will be introducing emissions trading from 2005 and if our government is not prepared to work on emissions trading, our companies will miss out on business opportunities," says Kelvin Thompson, opposition environment spokesman. The prime minister of the state of Victoria, John Thwaites, is also critical of Kemp's decision, describing it as "backwards thinking."

International research shows that "Australia needs to be prepared for the consequences of more extreme weather events. Emissions trading is not just an environmental policy, it is the micro-economic reform we will need to compete in a carbon-constrained future," says Thwaites. "It's putting Australia well behind the international game."

New South Wales premier Bob Carr agrees. He says that pulling the plug on Australia's participation in emissions trading will cost jobs for many Australians. "Whether they sign up to Kyoto or they don't, there's a case for emissions trading and Australia can only benefit from being part of an emissions trading system," he says.

The federal government disagrees: "While there are no current plans to continue the scheme there is no loss of opportunity for Australian business," insists a spokesman speaking for Kemp. "We have a variety of programs in place with A$1 billion investment on climate change issues which should produce carbon dioxide savings of 67 million tonnes by 2008-2012. That's equivalent to taking all today's cars, trucks and buses off the road. Considerable work has already been done and this government is committed to coming up with a climate change framework or action plan for the longer term."

Kemp's department has dismissed reports that the Australian Greenhouse Office is to be disbanded as "totally incorrect." Acting environment minister Robert Hill says: "The Australian Greenhouse Office remains the government's lead agency on greenhouse matters."

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