German Chancellor's adviser on climate policy: Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.
German Chancellor's adviser on climate policy: Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Photo: Scott Morton

A lead adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on climate
policy has attacked Australia's complacency on global warming and
described the Abbott government's championing of the coal industry as an
economic "suicide strategy".

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber said most countries had given up on
Australia setting tougher targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
and the country was now viewed alongside Canada as not contributing its
fair share to global efforts to reduce climate change.

Professor Schellnhuber, a former personal adviser to
Chancellor Merkel, co-chairs the German Advisory Council on Global
Change, which advises the Merkel government on environment policy – the
equivalent of Australia's Climate Change Authority.

Professor Schellnhuber was dismissive of the Abbott
government's direct action policy, which is still in limbo after the
axing of the former Labor government's carbon tax, describing it as
"weak" and he criticised a "ridiculous" energy green paper published the
day before the UN summit that advocated greater coal use in decades to

He said calling for continued coal use was not only poor
climate policy, it made little sense economically when the rest of the
world was turning to renewable energy.

"China will soon come up to peak coal consumption," he said.

"Other Asian economies might peak even sooner.

"It's almost a suicide strategy for the Australian economy."

His comments come after countries savaged Australia's
performance at a special climate summit of world leaders in New York
last week, where US President Barack Obama said combatting global
warming was a joint effort by all nations and "nobody gets a pass".

Prime Minister Tony Abbott did not attend the conference and
was represented by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said Australia
would stick to its target to reduce carbon emissions by 5 per cent on
2000 levels by 2020.

Germany, one of the world's biggest producers of wind energy,
has set emissions cuts of 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020, although
it is lagging behind this target.

It has also set targets of 55 per cent by 2030 and 80 per
cent by 2050 – a goal that would require most of the country's
fossil-fuel energy stations to cease operating.

Professor Schellnhuber, who  is also director of the Potsdam
Institute,  said it had been disappointing to see Australia's retreat
on climate policy after it became "the darling of the world" when Kevin
Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2007.

Asked about the reaction to Australia's performance in New
York, he said:  "Everybody likes Australian people but nobody liked the
Australian government there."

"Similar to Canada, Australia for the time being is not part
of the international community which is cooperating to achieve
greenhouse gas emission reductions," he said.

Professor Schellnhuber said instead of backing away from
policies such as Australia's renewable energy target, the Abbott
government should be exploiting Australia's enviable position as the
country with the "biggest potential" to produce renewable energy.

He said this was especially important when Australia was one
of the continents most vulnerable to the effects of climate change,
which would hit the country in the form of unprecedented heatwaves,
fires and coral bleaching.

"If Australia just sits there and says we offer our cheap
coal but we have no manufacturing industry, we have slipped from
renewables, these are dire prospects for the economy of your country,"
he said.

"It's bad for Australia because you might miss the innovation train."