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Australia signs up to Kyoto deal to end 10-year exile

This article is more than 16 years old

Australia yesterday joined the fold of rich countries committed to tackling climate change by signing the Kyoto agreement to limit CO2 emissions, at once distancing itself from the US and ending a 10-year diplomatic exile on the issue.

The decision on the first day of the UN conference in Bali follows the election last week of a new government which has promised to address climate change. It was applauded by delegates from many of the 189 countries who have arrived in Indonesia to start negotiations on a follow-up treaty to come into force in 2012.

Yesterday the US, now the only developed country not to have signed up to Kyoto, said it intended to be "very open and flexible" in the talks, which will continue for 11 days in the Indonesian resort island.

Harlan Watson, US chief negotiator, said America, which is responsible for 22% of the world's climate change emissions, still backed voluntary targets to fight climate change but viewed a possible deal "with an open mind". But he held out little hope that the US would agree to a cap on its emissions at this early stage of negotiations.

The 4,000 conference delegates are under pressure to agree an agenda for negotiations lasting until 2009, when it is hoped a deal will be struck forcing all countries to address climate change.

Among the most contentious issues will be whether emission cuts should be mandatory or voluntary, and to what extent countries such as China and India should limit their emissions.

The Bali meeting will be considered a success if countries can agree to limit the global concentration of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million and can keep rapidly developing countries such as China and India in the talks with the US and Europe.

There is growing recognition that rapidly developing countries hold the key to limiting climate change. This was underlined yesterday with a report showing emissions from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia would threaten the world with severe climate change within one generation, even if the rich countries stopped their own greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow.

Projections by the independent Washington-based Centre for Global Development showed that cumulative emissions from developing countries alone would drive the atmospheric concentration of CO2 well past 450ppm within 35 years, the threshold which UN scientists say will have significant irreversible impacts.

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