CANBERRA, Oct 31: Australia pointed an accusing finger at China and India as major polluters on Tuesday as it refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change despite a major new report warning of impending catastrophe.

Australia and the United States are the only two countries to have failed to ratify the agreement, which imposes targets for reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Prime Minister John Howard led strong government defiance of renewed pressure to ratify Kyoto in a rowdy session of parliament, saying China and India were major polluters who would not be curbed by Kyoto.

“The reason we will not sign Kyoto in its present form is that it does not comprehensively embrace all of the world's major emitters,” he said.

“And you cannot have an effective response to global warming unless you have all of the culprits in the net.

“Kyoto does not impose the obligations it would have imposed on Australia on countries like China and India.”

Howard's comments on the two Asian powerhouses were echoed throughout the day in radio and television interviews by ministers.

Former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern said in a report commissioned by Britain that the economic fallout of climate change could be on the scale of the two world wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Sir Stern estimated that worldwide inaction could cost the equivalent of between five and 20 per cent of global gross domestic product every year.

By contrast, the cost of action would be equivalent to one percent of GDP, a `manageable’ increase equivalent to a one-off one percent goods price increase, Sir Stern said.

“There is still time to avoid the worst impact of climate change, if we act now and act internationally,” he said as he launched the report in London on Monday.

Australia, rich in the fossil fuels such as coal which are blamed for global warming, is the world's worst polluter on a per capita basis, but is responsible for a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The United States is not a member of Kyoto and if you add the US, India and China together you have virtually half the world's greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Howard told parliament.

Despite refusing to ratify the agreement, Australia was doing better than most industrialised countries in meeting the targets set by Kyoto, he said.

Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said Australia would be `the only country in the world without nuclear energy that will reach the Kyoto target’.

Australia had committed 1.5 billion dollars to lower greenhouse gas emissions and had last week announced major environmental projects, including a huge solar power station, he said.—AFP

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