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Thursday, 11 August 2005
Page: 114


Mr ALBANESE (3:44 PM) —There is no doubt that avoiding dangerous climate change is the most significant environmental challenge facing the global community. Unfortunately, the minister’s statement highlights once again the failure of the government to take serious action to address climate change. Today we have seen more spin and half-statements but no objective, no target, no funding and no mechanism of achieving it. The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate is a positive move from where the government has been. I thought that finally the climate sceptics within the government had been isolated as the flat-earthers of the 21st century. It was only on 16 February that the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources said:

Whether or not those emissions are causing climate change, I don’t know ... If you go back across history, millions of years, carbon-dioxide levels go up and down and global warming comes and goes. I mean, the Earth is a lot warmer than it was when the glaciers formed.

But has this view actually been sidelined? Just this week the Minister for the Environment and Heritage disputed in sworn court documents that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming. EDO’s solicitor, Kirsty Ruddock, said she was surprised, given the government’s rhetoric on climate change in recent weeks:

We thought that with some of these issues there was no scientific debate these days.

It appears that there is. The statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs is welcome in that it at least recognises that some of the time a majority of the government recognise that climate change is happening.

This partnership is similar to agreements being formed around the world. Indeed, the partnership agreement itself acknowledges this when it states that it aims to ‘build on the foundation of existing bilateral and multilateral initiatives’. That is one of the disagreements that we have with the government. In our foreign policy Labor believe in multilateralism. We believe we must be a part of international action and engage with the world in a cooperative manner. Of course, the exchange of research and cooperation, particularly in new technology, is positive. This is occurring between all countries involved in the UN framework. It was acknowledged at the G8 summit in Gleneagles. It is occurring in meetings between China and the EU and between India and the EU.

The government’s failings were reinforced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs—we can accept that—but today the minister again attacked the Kyoto protocol. He stated, ‘We have never been afraid to state plainly that Kyoto does not, and will not, work.’ This completely ignores the fact that it was the Howard government that signed the protocol in 1997and that the Prime Minister said then that the protocol was ‘a win for the environment and a win for Australian jobs’. The minister’s statement skates over the fact that four of the six partners have ratified the Kyoto protocol. It ignores the fact that 140 countries have ratified the Kyoto protocol. The rhetoric contradicts the conclusion of the partnership vision statement:

The partnership will be consistent with and contribute to our efforts under the UNFCCC and will complement, but not replace, the Kyoto Protocol.

He quoted the Canadian foreign minister without looking at what he really said. The Canadian foreign minister, Pierre Pettigrew, said:

When you want to complement something, you recognise that the real substance is somewhere else.

He got it exactly right, because, if the six countries in the partnership are a sixpack, then Kyoto is the whole slab. It is the main game. This is a minor part of real international action. A total of 140 countries, including Japan, Korea, China and India, have all signed up.

In his statement the minister selected numbers. He spoke about category 1 countries as if they are all that is involved in the protocol. What occurred, of course, was that developing countries, led by Australia in 1992 at Rio and in 1997 at Kyoto, said that the industrialised countries had to take the lead and get the targets in the first period from 2008 to 2012. The fact is that the Kyoto protocol has signatories who emit three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gases. Only the US and Australia are on the outside looking in, and there is huge criticism from Europe and within the US of the Bush administration’s position. Senior Republican Senator John McCain stated:

The pact amounts to nothing more than a nice little public-relations ploy. It has almost no meaning. They aren’t even committing money to the effort, much less enacting rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

David Sandalow, a former US State Department official who is now at the Brookings Institution, said:

It’s a great line-up of countries; I just wish they were doing something serious. Basically these kind of technology-cooperation partnerships have been around for years. This seems to be nothing but a repackaging of existing technology partnerships tied up in a bow.

Readers of the minister’s statement might believe that developing countries are not engaged. They are. China was the first country to register a project under the Kyoto protocol’s clean development mechanism. Under the clean development mechanism both China and India have developed car emission standards far superior to those in the US. Make no mistake, they are engaged in the Kyoto protocol. Australia, however, cannot participate in the CDM process and gain carbon credits for investing in developing countries because we have not ratified the Kyoto protocol.

The essential difference between the Kyoto protocol and the Asia-Pacific pact, now that the climate sceptics have been isolated, is the attitude towards the market. How do you drive the development of new technology? Kyoto recognises that emissions trading is the most efficient market based mechanism to drive that change. That is why targets and performance indicators are so important, not just in the business of climate change but in every business—otherwise you are just fluffing around at the edges. BP saved $US650 million by implementing an internal emissions trading system.

The market sceptics argue for a voluntary approach without targets and without any mechanism to drive change—and we heard the rhetoric here again today. There has not been so much scepticism about markets since Marxist summer schools stopped meeting in the sixties and seventies. It is extraordinary that from a conservative government comes this absolute fear of a market based mechanism to drive this change. The Asia-Pacific pact places a huge reliance on technological development; the minister’s statement makes no bones about that.

Relying solely on technology to deal with greenhouse emissions is like trying to empty a puddle while the tap is still running—you simply cannot do it. But do not take my word for it. On the Insiders on Sunday, 31 July, the Minister for Foreign Affairs forgot his notes. He acknowledged that price signals were important, totally in contradiction to today’s rhetoric. He said that to achieve cuts to greenhouse gas emissions ‘we’ll have to investigate price signals coming from energy’. That is what Kyoto does, and you can only have two forms of price signal: market based emissions trading or a carbon tax. Perhaps that is what the minister was talking about.

The foreign minister talked about the International Energy Agency as though it endorsed the government’s position. But, two days ago, the International Energy Agency released a report condemning Australia’s spiralling greenhouse gas emissions and calling upon Australia to introduce a domestic emissions trading system. The government’s own report, Climate change: risk and vulnerability, released just days before the announcement of the Asia-Pacific pact, showed a frightening picture of Australia in 30 years: 20 per cent less rainfall; 20 per cent less run-off into the Murray-Darling; an increase in extreme weather conditions, including cyclones, floods and prolonged droughts; risks to our coastal areas, where most Australians live; and the risk of the Great Barrier Reef and the wet tropics of North Queensland and Kakadu disappearing.

But the government argued that there was no cause for alarm—we could be relaxed and comfortable. Labor believe this is a call to action. We will not leave the responsibility for this to our children and grandchildren. That is why we will ratify the Kyoto protocol, increase our mandatory renewable energy target, introduce a climate change trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and, most importantly, have a national emissions trading system to drive that technological change, which we all agree is important; it is a matter of how you get there. The government does not have a path to get there. What it has is a smokescreen to pretend it is doing something while it is ignoring this critical challenge. (Time expired)

Debate (on motion by Mr Nairn) adjourned.