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Environmentalists: Australia's Emissions Plan Won’t Clear the Air

FILE - A worker walks near conveyer belts loaded with iron ore at the Fortescue Solomon iron ore mine located in the Valley of the Kings, around 400 km (248 miles) south of Port Hedland in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Australia on Tuesday announced targets for reductions in its greenhouse gas emissions but environmentalists and others quickly criticized the goal as woefully inadequate.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country, as part of a deal to be submitted to global climate talks in Paris in December, will strive to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent from levels a decade ago by the year 2030.

“We've got to reduce our emissions but we've got to reduce our emissions in ways which are consistent with continued strong growth. Particularly with continued strong jobs growth,” Abbott announced. “And, the last thing we want to do is strengthen the environment and at the same time damage our economy."

Many skeptical

There is widespread skepticism Australia will achieve even the modest goal it is proposing.

“That skepticism is driven by the fact the current Abbott government has disappointed consistently on this agenda by fighting clean energy domestically, as well as removing any mechanism to actually enforce anything that they're doing,” said Assaad Razzouk, group chief executive of Singapore-based Sindicatum Sustainable Resources.

Australia has inexpensive coal resources and has been enthusiastically promoting exports of the carbon fuel, especially to China and India.

“We know that coal must be phased out yesterday. We know that the health impacts from what they're doing are global and deadly,” Razzouk, who is also chairman of the Association for Sustainable Investment in Asia, told VOA.

Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

‘Back of the pack’

Opposition parties in Australia argue the Abbot plan would put their country at the "back of the pack" when it comes to international action on climate change, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The government can’t pretend that this target would see us doing our bit in limiting warming to less than 2°C. The maximum amount of pollution Australia can emit to 2050 to do its part in avoiding 2°C is around 8-9 billion tons,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute in Sydney. “The proposed target would see this limit breached in just 14 years’ time, by 2029.”

“If other countries took the same approach as the government announced today, the world would warm by 3-4°C,” said Connor, in a news release.

Disappearing islands

The foreign minister of the low-lying Marshall Islands on Tuesday also expressed disappointment with Abbott's announcement.

Tony de Brum, on Twitter, commented that if the rest of the world follows Australia's lead, “the Great Barrier Reef would disappear. So would my country.”

Pacific island states, such as the Marshall Islands, where no one lives more than a few meters above sea level, are already experiencing erosion from rising sea levels attributed to climate change.

The majority of climate scientists blame the current global warming trend on humans expanding the "greenhouse effect”, where the atmosphere traps heat radiating toward space.