SYDNEY, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Australia will contribute A$200 million over four years into a U.N. fund to help poor nations cope with global warming, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday, a major policy reversal for the embattled former climate-change skeptic.
The pledge to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is the latest in a string of stinging policy reversals for Abbott, whose struggling conservative government has hit record low approval ratings.
"I've made various comments some time ago but as we've seen things develop over the last few months I think it's fair and reasonable for the government to make a modest, prudent and proportionate commitment to this climate mitigation fund," he told reporters in Melbourne.
The money for Australia's contribution to the fund will be allocated from its foreign aid budget, Abbott said, and was greeted as a welcome surprise at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.
The GCF is a major part of a plan agreed in 2009 to raise financial flows to help developing nations tackle climate change, from public and private sources, to $100 billion a year by 2020.
It aims to help emerging economies curb their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to changes such as heatwaves, mudslides and rising sea levels, and is seen as vital to unlock a U.N. climate deal meant to be agreed in late 2015 in Paris.
G20 leaders put an uncomfortable spotlight on climate change at last month's leader's summit in Brisbane despite efforts by host Australia to focus more narrowly on economic growth.
Japan pledged $1.5 billion to the fund during the summit and U.S. President Barack Obama pledged up to $3 billion, putting the fund within sight of its $10 billion goal.
In November, the United States and China set goals for curbing climate change, brightening prospects for Paris even though their promises, including Beijing's plan for a undefined peak in greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030, were vague.
Abbot's move was welcomed by environmental groups, but opposition Greens Party leader Senator Christine Milne called it too little too late, adding that allocating funds from the overseas aid budget amounted to "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
"It is going to take much more than $200 million over four years for Australians or the global community to believe there has been any real shift in Tony Abbott's climate denial position," she said in a statement.
The policy reversal follows Abbott's decision on Tuesday to abandon a plan to radically reshape Australia's universal healthcare system by charging patients a fee to see their doctors. (Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Richard Pullin)