Australia Seeks Backing for Deforestation Fund
CANBERRA -- Australia, which refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, will ask other nations to contribute to a new fund to combat deforestation and global warming, Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday.
Howard said his government would give A$200 million ($161 million) over five years to the World Bank-backed fund to help stop forest destruction.
Opposition and environmental groups dismissed the scheme as vote-getting ploy and hit out at the conservative government for refusing to ratify the global Kyoto pact, which sets goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warning.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Germany and New Zealand had indicated strong interest in Canberra's plan, while Britain and the United States were also positive.
"What this initiative will do, in a shorter period of time, is make a greater contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions than in fact the Kyoto Protocol," Howard said.
Howard's comments came a day after he rejected a personal plea from British climate economist Nicholas Stern to urgently ratify the Kyoto Protocol and slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 to help fight global warming.
Howard said Stern's warning that inaction could be catastrophic should not be treated as a "holy writ" for Australia's thermal coal reliant economy.
"I accept that climate change is a big issue, I'm not walking away from it, but I am not going to compromise the economic strengths of our country and put at risk thousands of jobs by commitment to a target that is unreasonably short, unreasonably harsh," he said, adding the fund was more "practical" than Kyoto.
Opposition Greens Senator Bob Brown said after six years of drought and with climate change shaping as a key issue in elections later this year, Howard was trying to burnish his green credentials.
"Our prime minister is a forest fool. It's a stunning piece of hypocrisy that he is putting $200 million into stopping forest burning in Southeast Asia while he is authorising forest burning in southern Australia," Brown told reporters.
The Wilderness Society said Howard should halt logging of natural forests at home before pointing the finger at developing nations Indonesia and Brazil.
Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Canberra's money would be mostly spent in neighbouring Indonesia, where illegal logging strips 2.1 million ha (5.2 million acres) of forest every year in trade worth $4 billion.
"This is our big chance to give the world a breathing space," he said. Australia's money would allow satellite and radar monitoring of the logging problem, as well as tree planting.
Downer said Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island nations like Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands would also be targeted.
The fund would be modelled on a climate pact drawing together six of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters -- Australia, China, the U.S., Japan, India and South Korea -- dubbed the "pack of dirty polluters" by environmentalists.
Howard denied Australia's fund contribution was insignificant when compared to the $10 billion that Stern had estimated was needed to fight deforestation globally.
"I would expect very significant contributions from other countries," he said. The money would be channelled through aid organisations.