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Australia's New PM Signs Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change

Kevin Rudd has been sworn in as Australia's new Prime Minister with an agenda of action on climate change and the repeal of unpopular industrial laws. The new government has signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and also plans to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq by the middle of 2008. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Kevin Rudd's hand trembled slightly but his voice was strong as he was sworn in as Australia's 26th Prime Minister after sweeping to power in elections last month.

His first act as leader was to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which had been a key election pledge.

The agreement means Australia's greenhouse gas emissions should not be higher than 8 percent above 1990 levels.

Environmental groups believe the Australian economy could easily manage even more ambitious targets.

John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute, says Australia could cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

"What this concludes is that we can actually have a strong leadership position with barely a ripple on economic growth. We'd still see a tripling of the economy through to 2050 and strong employment and quality of life growth," Connor said.

Mr. Rudd's decision to sign the Kyoto climate accord isolates the United States, which will now be the only developed nation not to ratify the agreement.

Australia's former conservative government refused to ratify Kyoto, saying it would damage the economy with its heavy reliance on coal exports, while countries like India and China were not bound by emissions targets.

Mr. Rudd's cabinet creates a new portfolio of Minister for Climate Change and Water, held by Penny Wong, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Malaysia. She is one of seven women in cabinet, including deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Former rock singer Peter Garrett was sworn in as Environment Minister. Responsibility for running a strong Australian economy now falls to Treasurer Wayne Swann, one of Prime Minister Rudd's most trusted lieutenants.

The recently appointed foreign minister Stephen Smith, a lawyer from Western Australia, is expected to visit the United States early next year to discuss Australia's plans to pull its troops out of Iraq.

Mr. Rudd's decision to sign the Kyoto Protocol clears the way for his government to play a stronger role when he leads a delegation of four Australian ministers to the U.N. climate talks in Bali.

They began Monday and will search for a new carbon emissions scheme to be introduced when the Kyoto treaty expires in 2012.