US challenges Australia on climate policy

The Obama administration is joining with other major countries to question Australia’s climate change policies.

China, Brazil and other countries submitted formal questions through the United Nations challenging whether Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s program to pay major polluters to cut back would really be effective, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing a document released publicly Monday.

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The countries’ leaders want to know whether Abbott’s program, which he dubs “direct action,” would meet the 5 percent emissions cuts in 2020 from 2000 levels that Australia has pledged.

The questions are part of world leaders’ negotiations leading to a December meeting in Paris where the UN hopes to come to an international agreement to fight climate change.

Abbott’s government instituted the program after voting last year to end its tax on carbon emissions, a main election pledge of the conservative party.

Australia has not answered the questions, according to the UN communications document.

Among other questions, the United States asked Australia whether the payments are meant as a replacement to the carbon tax.

The European Union asked whether the payments would bring the 15 to 25 percent carbon cuts that Australia said it would achieve by 2020 if other countries promised the same.

Brazil said Australia has a “low level of ambition,” and it joined China in criticizing the accounting method Australia uses to count its emissions.

Taken together, the questions show that the international community is skeptical of Abbott’s policies and the end of the carbon tax, experts told the Herald.