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Australian PM ratifies Kyoto Protocol

By Madeleine Coorey (Agence France Press) - December 3, 2007

Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd became Australia’s 26th prime minister Monday and immediately began dismantling the former government’s policies by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Rudd had pledged to commit Australia to the landmark United Nations treaty on greenhouse gas emissions as his first priority and kept his word after his official swearing in at Government House in Canberra.

“Today I have signed the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol,” the former diplomat said in a statement.

“This is the first official act of the new Australian government, demonstrating my government’s commitment to tackling climate change.”

Rudd, who ousted conservative John Howard in elections nine days ago on a platform that included reversing the previous government’s policy and ratifying Kyoto, had taken the oath of office just hours earlier.

The centre-left leader said ratification of the treaty on combating global warming was approved by the first meeting of the government’s executive council and later by the governor general.

Ratification will come into force 90 days after the commitment is handed to the United Nations, he said, meaning Australia will become a full member of the Kyoto Protocol before the end of March 2008.

The move leaves the United States as the only major developed nation that has refused to ratify the pact.

Rudd said Kyoto was considered to be “the most far-reaching agreement on environment and sustainable development ever adopted”.

“Australia’s official declaration today that we will become a member of the Kyoto Protocol is a significant step forward in our country’s efforts to fight climate change domestically — and with the international community,” he said.

The move means Rudd is likely to receive a hero’s welcome when he undertakes his first foreign visit as prime minister to attend high level talks at a United Nations conference on climate change in Bali.

The conference, which began Monday, aims to produce a “roadmap” for negotiating a new pact on tackling global warming to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

Australia’s scientific community praised Rudd’s move, saying it acknowledged the scientific basis of warnings on the impact of climate change and would draw more of the developing world into the Kyoto process.

“It has acknowledged that for the last 11 years Australia has had backwards thinking in terms of what the science is telling us,” said Professor Barry Brook, a climate change expert from the University of Adelaide.

“The second important thing is this has given America no excuse now.”

Environmental group WWF said signing up to Kyoto would send a strong message to the United States.

“Once we have the USA on board, the world can get on with the job of legislating deep cuts,” WWF Australia chief executive Greg Bourne said in a statement.

The Australian Greens said the ratification was a historic act many years overdue.

“Prime Minister Rudd realises that he has now legally bound Australia to meeting our targets, so real and swift action is now needed to turn around our skyrocketing emissions,” Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said.

Rudd said his government would do “everything in its power” to help Australia meet its Kyoto obligations — which are set at capping greenhouse gas emissions at 108 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.

Official projections point to Australia just breaching this limit, estimating greenhouse gas output at 109 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.

Rudd has promised a sharp reversal of several of Howard’s other policies, including withdrawing Australian combat troops from Iraq war and rolling back labour laws, which he says are unfair to workers.