Australia being left behind on clean energy

AUSTRALIA appears in danger of being left behind on climate change, as United States President Barack Obama moves to cut carbon emissions from America's power stations.

The US move, reported by the New York Times, signals the Obama administration has firmed its resolve to tackle emissions after a year of coal industry opposition to the plan.

President Obama first announced the plans a year ago and the US Environmental Protection Authority was expected to announce the limits on emissions on Saturday, Australian time.

The plan will bypass Congress to force new and existing American power plants to limit their overall carbon emissions.

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," Mr Obama said earlier this year.

It comes after newly-minted Prime Minister Tony Abbott this week abolished Australia's Climate Commission and the government's Climate Change Department.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said climate change initiatives would still be regulated under his department, but the restructure has raised doubts about the likely resources to be given to tackling emissions.

Various independent bodies including the Climate Institute have also questioned the ability of the Coalition's Direct Action Plan to meet Australia's renewable energy targets.

Analysis of the Coalition's plans released before the election showed the policy was unlikely to meet the 25% emissions reduction target by 2020 without $4 billion to $15 billion of extra investment.

Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, Professor Steven Sherwood, said even China was doing more than Australia to address climate change.

He said the key issue to deal with was emissions from burning coal, saying the rest of the world had been moving toward pricing emissions since 1992.

"The (current) emissions trading scheme seems designed to limit coal emissions, and it seems to be working - emissions have come down each year for the past two years," he said.

"I looked at the numbers the other day and realised that the cost of the existing scheme was about the same as the cost of a beer at the pub once a month for every Australian."

Prof Sherwood said the best way to solve the long-term problems of climate change was to move away from burning coal - a strategy clearly backed by President Obama.

"I don't know how viable it (the Coalition plan) is to meet the targets, but I'm not too optimistic," he said.

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