By James Grubel

 
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CANBERRA, Nov 3 (Reuters) Australia's conservative prime minister has turned a light shade of green, say political analysts, as global warming and his opposition to Kyoto emerge as key political issues in the lead up to an election in 2007.

A long-term critic of the Kyoto Protocol and opponent of carbon trading, Howard this week announced projects to promote cleaner energy and shifted his stand on carbon markets, saying he would now be willing to join an international trading system.

But political analysts are not convinced, saying Howard's green conversion is more rhetoric than reality, designed to position the government ahead of next year's elections.

''He doesn't give the impression of a man who is really convinced, but he can't afford to give the impression he has been asleep at the watch,'' John Warhurst, professor of politics at the Australian National University, told Reuters today.

The Age newspaper's political editor, Michelle Grattan, agrees, saying Howard remains a climate-change sceptic who is playing practical politics.

''Howard knows he has a political problem. Climate change has grabbed voters' attention: those talking it up can no longer be discussed as just 'green','' Grattan wrote in The Age newspaper tday. ''But Howard isn't convinced about the dangers.'' Climate change, and Australia's troop commitments in Iraq, are shaping up as the two key issues for the next Australian election, due in the second half of 2007.

Howard's government is struggling in the polls midway through his fourth term, with the centre-left Labor opposition cementing a narrow lead on the back of promises to sign the Kyoto Protocol and bring Australian forces home from Iraq.

Australians are already feeling the impact of global warming. Severe drought is covering half of the nation's farmlands and high spring temperatures point to scorching summer and more forest fires following the hottest year on record in 2005.

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