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Study Shows Australia's Climate Change Policy is Failing

Australia's conservative government has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, but insists it is on track to meet the targets set by the Kyoto treaty for the year 2012 anyway. Australia's Climate Institute, in a new report, predicts greenhouse emissions in the country will exceed the Kyoto levels by 2010. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The study commissioned by the Climate Institute found that levels of so-called "greenhouse gas" emissions in Australia over the last two years were above the federal government's expectations.

The government in Canberra has refused to ratify the global climate change treaty. It claims that implementing the agreement would damage its coal-driven economy, and would cost jobs.

Nevertheless, Australia has insisted it would still meet the greenhouse gas levels stipulated by the treaty. That means that by 2012, emissions will be no more than 108 percent of what they were in 1990.

However, the privately run Climate Institute says emissions have increased by 22.5 million tons since 2004, which the report called the equivalent of adding more than five million cars to Australia's roads.

Projecting this trend out, the institute says the figures show that Australia is not on track to meet its Kyoto targets.

The government of Prime Minister John Howard says its own research - expected to be published next week - will show that those targets are within reach.

Mr. Howard says the Climate Institute study is misleading because it is based only on emissions from energy use - and ignores offsetting improvements brought about by reduced land clearing, and encouraging farmers to plant more trees.

"It doesn't provide for any offsets, and when our figures come out you will see how it's wrong, because it's inadequate," he said.

John Conner, chief executive of the Climate Institute, says any improvements from land clearing have already been realized.

"We've had a very significant spike in our energy greenhouse pollution," he said. " We've seen most of the gains that can be got from offsets in terms of land clearing already."

Australia, with just over 20 million people, produces more greenhouse gas per capita than any country in the world. Climate change has emerged as a key issue ahead of parliamentary elections due later this year.

The continent is suffering its worst drought for 100 years, which some people put down to global warming caused by human activity.