Australia Agrees to Join Kyoto, Making U.S. the Last Straggler

BALI, Indonesia -- Australia raised hopes of global action to fight climate change Monday by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, isolating the United States at UN-led talks in Bali as the only rich nation not in the pact.

Australia's decision won a standing ovation at the opening of tough two-week negotiations on the Indonesian resort isle. The talks aim to pull together rich and poor countries around a common agenda to agree on a broader successor to Kyoto by 2009.

"I think I can speak for all present here by expressing a sigh of relief," conference host and Indonesia's environment minister, Rachmat Witoelar, told the opening session of Australia's steps to ratify the protocol.

New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took the oath of office Monday. His first official duty was signing documents to ratify Kyoto, ending his country's long-held opposition to the climate agreement that runs until 2012.

About 190 nations are in Bali seeking a breakthrough for a new global pact that would include the United States and developing countries to fight climate change to avert droughts, heat waves and rising seas, which will hit the poor hardest.

A new treaty is meant to widen the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 36 industrial countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.

"The world is watching closely," Witoelar told delegates at the meeting.