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Barack Obama, UN push Tony Abbott on climate change policy

The Age logo The Age 11/06/2014 Mark Kenny
Australia''s PM Abbott inspects the guard of honour as he arrives for a meeting with his Canadian counterpart Harper on Parliament Hill in Ottawa © Reuters Australia''s PM Abbott inspects the guard of honour as he arrives for a meeting with his Canadian counterpart Harper on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Fundamental differences over climate change policy continue to hamper Tony Abbott's capacity to build links in the US, with both President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wanting more support from Australia for international action on carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Abbott meets Mr Obama in the White House on Thursday for their first formal talks, with the issue of global warming likely to arise and already the subject of pre-positioning by both sides.

Mr Obama recently announced a 30 per cent cut in emissions from US coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, which he hopes to achieve through regulation and delivering a price on carbon.

Mr Abbott, however, has made his opposition to carbon pricing and binding international agreement even clearer. He used a visit to Canada before arriving in New York to meet with the like-minded conservative leader Stephen Harper to publicly reinforce their contempt for carbon pricing. The two men expressed a newly articulated view against global limits, arguing individual countries should be free to determine their own action as long as there was no cost to economic growth.

In his meeting with Mr Ban on Tuesday, Mr Abbott sidestepped accepting an invitation to attend a UN-sponsored international conference on climate policy later this year. The summit has been timed to precede the annual UN General Assembly session in September in a bid to maximise the involvement of leaders attending that session.

Fairfax Media understands Mr Abbott has no plans to attend either, despite the session coming towards the end of Australia's membership of the UN Security Council.

A carefully worded read-out from the Abbott-Ban talks glossed over their climate differences.

But in a separate interview, Mr Ban's climate change spokesman, Dan Thomas, expressed disappointment. In response to Mr Abbott's statement that there are bigger problems than climate change, Mr Thomas said: ''We think that climate change should be the No. 1 priority for all leaders to consider.

''It is clearly the defining issue of our time, there's clearly a huge amount at stake. It's costing our economies already today huge amounts of money and it'll cost our economies more in the future.''

The UN is looking for bold statements from leading countries in the hope of piercing a growing climate reluctance licensed in part by resistance from resource-rich countries such as Australia and Canada.

''It's an opportunity to step up, we expect, we very much hope Australia will be there with them,'' Mr Thomas said.

''We've had an overwhelming number of replies already from world leaders who say that they will accept the Secretary-General's challenge to come here with bold statements, actions that they're already undertaking and we very much hope that Australia will be there, you know with the rest of the world.''

On his final full day in New York, Mr Abbott also moved to future-proof his diplomatic links through meetings with leaders likely to face off in the 2016 election.

He met Jeb Bush, son of former president George H.W. Bush and brother of former president George W. Bush, widely tipped to be the Republican nomination in 2016. But an attempted meeting with Hillary Clinton will now take place by phone because of scheduling difficulties associated with Mrs Clinton's latest book.

Speaking earlier in the day at the New York Stock Exchange, where he declared Australia once more ''open for business'', Mr Abbott said climate change was not the world's most pressing problem.

''There is no argument about the need for strong action on climate change. There is some argument about the best way to achieve that … we are not going to have any rearguard action in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme in Australia. We're going to take direct action to get our emissions down,'' he said.

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