Climate change on agenda as Abbott visits US

2014-06-12 14:28
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Josh Wilson, AFP)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Josh Wilson, AFP)

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Washington - The United States has few closer allies than Australia but climate change could prove a touchy issue when Australia's conservative prime minister makes his first White House visit on Thursday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was elected in September, arrives in Washington a week after President Barack Obama announced bold plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Abbott has described those as sensible steps but has made clear that he doesn't view the fight against global warming as a top priority and is set against action that could crimp Australian business.

He plans to scrap Australia's carbon tax on polluters.

"Is it [climate change] the most important issue the world faces right now? I don't believe so", he told reporters after visiting the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. "It is one of a number of significant issues that the world faces and we will do our bit."

Otherwise, there are plenty of shared interests between the two leaders. Abbott is an unashamed cheerleader for the strong historical ties between the US and Australia, epitomised by close security co-operation, and is a strong supporter of US engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

On Tuesday Abbot declared that "America has no better friend" than Australia.

'Climate clash'

Australia is hosting a new deployment of US Marines, a concrete outcome of the Obama administration's so-called Asia "pivot" to counter the rise of an increasingly assertive China.

Australia is also one of the 12 nations negotiating a US-backed trans-Pacific free trade pact whose members would account for 40% of global economic output.

Abbott, whose official gift for Obama will be a nine-foot-long surfboard bearing the US presidential seal, has heaped personal praise on the president this week.

He has expressed regret for comments he made last when he was opposition leader and described Obama as leading the most left-wing US administration in at least half a century.

But it is Abbott's stance on climate change that may be watched closest when he visits Washington.

One Australian bookmaker has even billed it as a "climate clash" and is taking bets on how many times each leader will mention the issue.

Abbott wants to replace Australia's carbon tax that was introduced by the previous left-leaning government with taxpayer-funded incentives for polluters to reduce their emissions.

He's likened that to Obama's plans for getting US states to cut their emissions, but he appears out of step with the US president.

In an interview published at the weekend by the New York Times, Obama described climate change as "one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country faces and that the planet faces."
Read more on:    tony abbott  |  barack obama  |  us  |  australia  |  climate change  |  environment

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