Angry protests erupted in Australia yesterday as environmentalists accused the government of “surrendering” by pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by only 5 percent by 2020.
As senior scientists called for deeper cuts, hundreds of people attended a wave of rallies around the country to urge stronger action on climate change or risk the loss of natural treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was elected a year ago on a platform that included acting on climate change as a priority, committed the country on Monday to cutting emissions by 5 percent of 2000 levels by 2020.
Green groups immediately attacked the plan, which would allow for cuts of up to 15 percent if an international agreement was reached on combating climate change as a “global embarrassment.”
Rudd defended the cuts as “a responsible course of action” necessary for the economy and for dealing with the environmental challenge of climate change.
“The Australian government, given the global financial crisis, makes no apologies whatsoever for introducing responsible medium term targets to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions, capable of being built on in the future more ambitiously,” he told reporters in remote Western Australia.
But Greens leader Bob Brown said voters were angry with the policy and his party would attempt to amend the scheme in the Senate to cuts of between 25 and 40 percent from 1990 levels.
“I think it’s an appalling and disgusting failure by the Rudd government,” Brown told reporters.
At Rudd’s Brisbane office, protesters raised a white flag scorning what they saw as his surrender on an issue that Queensland Greens Member of Parliament Ronan Lee said would ruin the Great Barrier Reef and the Kakadu wetlands.
“Mr Rudd is completely surrendering on climate change,” Lee said.
Outside Parliament House in Canberra, about 100 people gathered to reject Rudd’s cuts, while in Sydney more than 100 rallied outside government offices.
“Today’s protest is to tell Kevin Rudd that the Australian people didn’t vote for 5 percent,” New South Wales Greens lawmaker John Kaye said.
About 70 protesters gathered in Melbourne to vow to fight for higher cuts, while in Tasmania 15 activists stormed a pulp mill where some chained themselves to equipment to halt production.
In Adelaide, protesters tossed shoes at a Rudd look-alike, copying an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday.