By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday warned that next year's landmark climate change summit in Paris will fail if world leaders decide to put cutting carbon emissions ahead of economic growth.
Just days after host Australia was embarrassed into addressing climate change at the Group of 20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane, Abbott defiantly held his country's line - the polar opposite of most other G20 nations.
"It's vital that the Paris conference be a success... and for it to be a success, we can't pursue environmental improvements at the expense of economic progress," Abbott said. "We can't reduce emissions in ways which cost jobs because it will fail if that's what we end up trying to do."
Abbott made the remarks at a joint press conference in Canberra with visiting French President Francois Hollande, who said he hoped a new deal on carbon emissions would be legally binding and linked to a new United Nations fund to help poor nations cope with global warming.
"If the poorest, most vulnerable countries can't be accompanied in their transition to sustainable development, then there will be no binding agreement," Hollande said earlier this week in New Caledonia, where he met top government officials from Kiribati, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Niue, Tuvalu and French Polynesia.
The Green Climate Fund now stands at $7.5 billion following pledges by the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Mexico and South Korea. That is within sight of a $10 billion goal, brightening prospects for a U.N. climate pact next year.
Asked if Australia would contribute to the fund, Abbott said Australia, one of the world's biggest carbon emitters per capita, had already committed A$2.55 billion ($2.21 billion) to a domestic initiative to reduce the country's emissions by 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.
"What we are doing is quite comparable with what other countries are doing and we do deliver on our reductions targets unlike some others," Abbott said.
Still, U.S. President Barack Obama used a high-profile speech in Brisbane to warn Australia that its own Great Barrier Reef was in danger, a message that reportedly angered G20 organizers.
Obama was at the forefront of a successful push by the majority of G20 nations to override Australia's attempts to keep climate change off the formal agenda of the summit.
The final communique called for strong and effective action to address climate change with the aim of adopting a protocol, with legal force, in Paris.
(Additional reporting by Cecile Lefort; Editing by Ryan Woo)