Australian PM to attend Paris climate talks

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Oct 20, 2015.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Oct 20, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Saturday (Oct 24) he would attend December's United N ations climate conference in Paris, in contrast to expectations that his predecessor would skip the global gathering.

Turnbull is seen as a supporter of action to combat climate change, unlike Tony Abbott - whom he ousted in a party coup last month and who had a reputation as a reluctant advocate against global warming.

"That is my intention," Turnbull told the Guardian Australia when asked if he would attend the talks.

"I'll go to CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta) and then I'll go to Paris." Before Turnbull took over, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had been expected to represent Australia at the UN meeting instead of Abbott.

With its heavy use of coal-fired power, Australia is considered one of the world's worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters.

Canberra's targets for reducing emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 have been criticised as well below the level required by the government's own climate advisory body.

But Turnbull, who lost the opposition leadership in 2009 over his support for the previous Labor administration's carbon emissions trading scheme, hinted his government could be open to going further than the current targets.

Asked whether he would "go beyond" Australia's current commitments, he said: "Sure... arguably, that depends on the rest of the world."

During Abbott's two years in power, his conservative government scrapped a controversial tax on carbon emissions by industrial polluters, while he consistently promoted the coal export industry.

Turnbull has until now said there will be no change to Australia's climate policy, which includes a "direct action" scheme giving polluters financial incentives to reduce emissions.

Critics have slammed the fund as ineffective.