CANBERRA/WELLINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Australia will sign up to the second round of Kyoto climate commitments, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said on Friday, but the push for global emissions cuts remained divided with New Zealand joining major countries to opt out of the Kyoto scheme.
With new U.N. climate negotiations due to start in Qatar this month, Australia joins Europe and a handful of other nations engaged in the second phase of emissions reductions. The first Kyoto period is due to end on Dec. 31, with the new commitment period starting on Jan. 1, 2013.
Neighbouring New Zealand said it would not sign up for the next phase and would instead join a separate convention, including large greenhouse gas emitters such as the United States and China.
Negotiations in Doha will start working out new targets for the Kyoto process, culminating in an agreement by 2015.
"Joining a second commitment period will ensure Australian businesses have access to international credits under the Clean Development Mechanism, helping Australia reduce emissions at the lowest cost to the economy," Combet said.
Australia accounts for around 1.5 percent of global emissions, but is the developed world's highest emitter per person, due to a heavy reliance on burning coal for electricity.
Data released last week shows Australia on track to honour its original Kyoto commitment to limit carbon emissions, blamed for global warming, to 108 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.
Emerging countries such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa seek stronger targets for rich countries. Under the first Kyoto period, emerging economies had no mandatory cuts.
Australia has a target to cut emissions by 5 percent of year 2000 levels by 2020, but Combet said that could be raised to up to 25 percent if there was a stronger global commitment.
Australia in July introduced a A$23 ($24) per tonne carbon tax on top polluters, which will move into an emissions trading scheme from mid 2015. Australia and the European Union have agreed to link their trading schemes by 2018.
New Zealand's abandonment of Kyoto 2 followed changes to its emissions trading scheme (ETS), which allowed unlimited use of carbon credits to meet targets at near-record low carbon prices.
The changes also kept out the agriculture sector, which accounts for around half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, from the ETS.
New Zealand Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said a new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through to 2020 would be set once technical issues had been settled.
In the meantime, experts said the government's commitment to emissions reductions remained unclear.
"Now that it is out of Kyoto, New Zealand has to announce a serious 2020 target - one that involves it actually reducing emissions and not relying on short-term forest credits if New Zealand wants to be taken seriously on climate action," said Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.
Wellington had made a conditional offer to cut emissions by 10-20 percent below 1990 levels, subject to global progress.