Australia unlikely to sign Kyoto by Bali: analysts
By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's new government is unlikely to sign the Kyoto pact in time for a U.N. climate summit in Bali, but will be welcomed next week as part of the Kyoto family, environment and legal experts said on Tuesday.
Labor Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd hopes parliament will ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible and is seeking advice on whether he can hand documents to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Bali summit.
The United Nations hopes the two-week talks in Bali that begin on Monday will lead to an agreement to launch a two-year dialogue to decide on a successor to Kyoto, whose first phase ends in 2012.
"There are a range of ways in which the ratification process can be transacted and I'm seeking further advice on that now," Rudd said on Tuesday. Foreign ministry sources, who would not be named, said the handover could happen in Bali on December 13.
Outgoing Prime Minister John Howard, whose 11-year government was demolished by Rudd's Labor party at weekend elections, strongly opposed ratification of Kyoto, arguing it would unfairly damage Australia's energy-export based economy and cost jobs.
Australia negotiated hard at Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 for the most generous deal given to any major industrialized nation, winning an increase of 8 percent above 1990 greenhouse emission levels against a 5 percent average cut for other countries.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this month said Australia's greenhouse emissions in 2005 were about 25.6 per cent above 1990 levels, falling to a rise of 4.5 per cent when counting the impact of land-clearing bans.
That put Australia, the world's biggest greenhouse emitter in per-capita terms, on track to meet its Kyoto target.
RUDD CHATS WITH GORE
Rudd discussed signing Kyoto with former U.S. vice-president and Nobel Prize-winning climate warrior Al Gore in a Monday phone call
"We talked a lot about climate change and some of the important things that need to be done globally," Rudd said.
"We'll resume that conversation in Bali over a strong cup of tea or something stronger."
The United States is now the only major developed nation that refuses to ratify the pact. President George W. Bush, like Howard, says agreeing to binding targets would hurt the economy and cost jobs.
He also says the pact unfairly excludes big developing nations, such as China and India, from committing to emissions cuts.
Convincing poorer nations, which blame the West for much of the man-made greenhouse gas pollution to date, to join a global pact to fight climate change will be the chief task in Bali.
An international legal expert said without domestic laws in place and facing a hostile Senate until next July, Rudd's government could breach the law because ratifying a treaty in Australia was not a simple process.
"There has never been a formal review of Kyoto or recommendations made by parliament's treaties committee," said Donald Rothwell, from the Australian National University.
Australia could breach its own laws regarding international legal obligations if it did not follow the correct process, Rothwell said.
"That would not be a good look for Labor if it is seeking to restore Australia's standing as a good international citizen."
Don Henry, from the Australian Conservation Foundation, said ratification of Kyoto was straight-forward and Rudd must be part of the negotiation on a deal to slash greenhouse emissions by up to 40 percent by 2020.
"The greatest danger is delay. I'm not sure if formal ratification can be done before Bali, but for all practical purposes we'll be welcomed with open arms and around the table," Henry said.
(Editing by David Fogarty)