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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Australia slammed over environment
Mount Isa - the most polluting source of greenhouse gases in Australia
Australia refused to ratify the Kyoto agreement
Australia is in the grip of a vast ecological crisis caused by government inaction, a new report on the country's environmental record has warned.


I totally reject the notion that Australia is not being entirely responsible in an environmental sense and through its environmental policies

Environment Minister David Kemp
The report, commissioned by a number of environmental and conservation groups, describes Australia as being a "continent in reverse".

It highlights a loss of plants and animal life, the clearing of land, the degradation of inland waters and the burning of fossil fuels as major causes of pollution.

The government has dismissed the report.

'Overstated'

The report, entitled In Reverse, contradicts claims by the Australian Government that it has made considerable improvements in terms of controlling pollution and promoting sustainable land use.

"Per capita, Australians generate more greenhouse gases and clear more land than the people of any other wealthy nation," the report states.

"Internationally, Australia is a laggard state."

The report was written by Melbourne University's Doctor Peter Christoff to counter the official report due to be presented by the Australian Government at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa next week.

Dr Christoff says that the government's claims of progress regarding the environment are overstated. Emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide have risen by 17.4% since 1990, he says, and will rise by a total of 30% by 2012.

The Australian Government, in a report issued last week, said that emissions will rise by only 11% by 2012.

The government's calculations include projected figures for carbon sequestration - absorbing carbon dioxide from the air through planting trees - and stopping deforestation.

Many environmental scientists believe it is not valid to rely on such measures to reduce global warming.

Dr Christoff's report also says that the number of extinct, endangered or vulnerable bird and animal species has risen from 118 in 1993 to 160 in 2001, and warns that the country is now fifth in the list of countries accounting for the amount of land cleared annually.

Kyoto controversy

However the Australian Government has hit back at the report's statistics, with Environment Minister David Kemp saying that it had an "excellent" record on environmental issues.

"I totally reject the notion that Australia is not being entirely responsible in an environmental sense and through its environmental policies, both internationally and domestically," he told Reuters news agency on Monday.

Australia has faced criticism on its environmental record before, when in June Prime Minister John Howard refused to sign the Kyoto pact on climate control, which aims at cutting production of greenhouse gases blamed for warming the atmosphere.

Mr Howard said he agreed with the US opinion that the agreement was worthless unless developing nations such as China - a large producer of pollutant gases - were also included.


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