POLITICS

Paris Agreement 'Very Meaningful' Despite U.S. Withdrawal, Government Insists

Bill Shorten wants the Government to put pressure on the US.

02/06/2017 9:46 AM AEST | Updated 02/06/2017 12:01 PM AEST
Fairfax / Alex Ellinghausen
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insist the Paris Climate Agreement is "still very meaningful".

The Australian Government will not follow America's lead and leave the Paris Climate Agreement, saying the global accord can still provide "very meaningful" action to limit global warming.

The United States -- the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world -- will pull out of the Paris Agreement, President Donald Trump announced early Friday morning (AEST), in fulfillment of one of his key election promises.

The Paris Climate Agreement was drawn up in December 2015, and has since been ratified by 148 member nations, encompassing over 80 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The United States' withdrawal brings that down to less than 70 per cent.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Trump's decision was "disappointing but not at all surprising".

"Trump's position on this matter has been very, very well known," Turnbull told reporters from Singapore, where he is delivering the keynote address at the Asia Security summit later in the day.

He also reaffirmed Australia's ongoing commitment to the Accord, and suggested a more environmentally friendly energy market was inevitable, regardless of the American Government's decision.

"We would prefer the United States to remain part of the agreement. We are committed to the agreeement," he said.

"The important thing is to ensure that we maintain energy supplies that are affordable, that are reliable, secure, and that we meet our emissions targets and we are on track to do just that."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called on the Australian Government to put pressure on its close ally to reconsider the decision.

"Labor is deeply disappointed by the failure of the U.S. to uphold this important international agreement," Shorten tweeted.

In a television interview early Friday, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg steered clear of condemning the decision, instead focusing on Australia's ongoing role.

While it was "clearly preferable to have the U.S. at the table", the Paris Agreement was "still a very meaningful agreement", Frydenberg told the ABC's News Breakfast.

"We (Australia) represent about 1.3 or 1.4 per cent of the world's emissions and if you count up all those countries who have emissions production under 2 per cent, that makes up 40 per cent of the total international emissions profile. That's why what Australia does is important too."

Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel said Thursday if the U.S. pulled out, "That's a blow to the accord but it's not fatal".

The current agreement commits to limiting global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels and set five-yearly targets for signatory nations.

Australia only ratified the Agreement six months ago, nearly a year after it was drawn up and weeks before Trump assumed the presidency.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Parliament in the hours leading up to the U.S. announcement he was "committed" to the agreement, despite pressure from several members of his backbench to reassess Australia's involvement.

"We are on track to meet our targets," Turnbull said in Canberra on Thursday.

"That's our commitment -- affordable, reliable energy, and meeting our emissions reduction targets in accordance with the Paris treaty."

But independent analysis by analysis site, Climate Action Tracker, disagrees.

Australia's target in the Paris agreement is to reduce its emissions to between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. According to the tracker, Australia is currently on track to increase its emissions on 2005 levels by around 21 per cent.

Prominent Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has made no secret of his support for America's withdrawal, posting on social media Thursday that he had "champagne on ice" in readiness to celebrate the announcement.

He welcomed the news on Friday morning, saying it was a good decision by the US, as the Paris Agreement did little for the environment and leaving it would boost America's economy.

"It places the US at a significant competitive disadvantage, especially against China and against Russia," he told Sky News.

"Where the US was required to make real and substantial cuts that would have harmed its economy, China was able to increase its emissions to its heart's content up to the year 2030 and then it didn't have to make any reductions whatsoever.

"I don't think it is in Australia's strategic interests to see the US weakened vis-à-vis Russia and China."

Trump has said he wants to negotiate back into the Paris Accord -- which he claimed was devised to disadvantage U.S. industry -- or come up with a new, "much better" pact, but it's not clear what the terms of such an agreement would be.

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