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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17375


Senator WEBBER (5:28 PM) —It gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise to speak in support of the Kyoto Protocol Ratification Bill 2003 [No. 2].It is widely recognised amongst the world's climatologists that global warming is adversely affecting the world's climate. Adverse changes to the world's climate can negatively impact on human lifestyle, human existence and agricultural production, as a few examples. Global warming is attributed to the man-made build-up of greenhouse gases. The causes of global warming need to be tackled on a global basis in order to ensure an effective solution. On that, there is no disagreement. Greenhouse gas emissions, wherever they occur, distribute themselves globally over time and are long-lived. Greenhouse gas abatement in one part of the world is rendered ineffective by unabated emissions elsewhere. That is why this bill needs to be agreed to.

The Kyoto protocol is the only global forum in place, and ratification of the protocol gives a party a place at the negotiating table. As Senator Wong mentioned earlier, having a seat at the only global forum in place is necessary not only for negotiating Australia's future greenhouse gas abatement targets but also for being part of the negotiation process of other parties' future targets and the eventual incorporation of the developing world into the monumental tasks at hand. It is a process Australia must be part of.

Australia has committed substantial financial and technological resources to greenhouse gas abatement and is in a reasonably sound position to reach its 1997 Kyoto commitment by the first commitment period—that is, an eight per cent increase of emissions on a 1990 base by 2010. The recently released 2001 national greenhouse gas inventory indicated that, using the 108 per cent Kyoto target inventory accounting provisions, Australia's net emissions have actually declined slightly, by 0.1 per cent or 0.5 million tonnes, over the period 1990-2001. This has occurred because of the substantial reductions that have already occurred in the land use change and forestry sector over this period, which have more than offset growth in other sectors.

The government has said on numerous occasions that it intends to meet the Kyoto commitment. Ratification of the Kyoto protocol, therefore, merely means that Australia is serious about meeting this commitment or, in another sense, being true to its word in the eyes of the rest of the world. The government's statements and commitments would become far more believable if it backed its Kyoto commitment with actual ratification.

Labor, on the other hand, has indicated its intention, through this bill, and its belief in ratifying the protocol and it would do so if it won government. Labor has publicly expressed the view that the present Kyoto target for the first commitment period is a relatively generous target in view of the permitted increase on the 1990 base and that Australia is unlikely to achieve such a target in any alternative global agreement if the Kyoto protocol fails. Labor believes that Australia can meet its obligations under the Kyoto protocol without any undue hardship and with economic opportunities through growth in jobs in the sustainable energy industry and in exports in the new low-emission technologies and the like.

Whilst it may be easy to criticise the protocol as it stands—as those opposite do—a major shortcoming, I will agree, is that, without the United States and the developing countries' abatement participation, some 75 per cent of the world's emissions are outside the management of the protocol umbrella. That is a challenge. But the Kyoto participants can actually lead by example. With ratification, Australia can be one of the leading participants in the resolution of a potentially devastating global problem involving an increase of climatic extremes such as floods, droughts and increased temperature; a massive loss of biodiversity, including the loss of reefs; and the spread of infectious diseases, as we heard earlier. Only through ongoing and further global cooperation and participation can we have the best opportunity to deliver a universal solution to this problem. Furthermore, as with any global negotiations involving environmental and economic parameters, emissions abatement will involve a readjustment of energy infrastructure, creating both opportunities and costs. It is for that reason that it is imperative that Australia be involved in order to promote and take advantage of the opportunities arising from such adjustment whilst at the same time safeguarding its economic interests.

Australia does have the capacity, both technically and economically, to respond to the readjustment of its energy infrastructure, leading to lower emission intensity. Readjustment of the world's energy infrastructure is already occurring, as the world moves, albeit slowly, towards a less carbon-intensive energy delivery system. A case in point is the resources being directed to a study and incorporation of less emission-intensive technologies by major oil companies such as Shell and BP. Australia's ratification of the protocol embraces this shift. It is highly probable that the energy infrastructure seen in 30 to 50 years time will be drastically different from what we see today. Whilst the stationary energy sector is by far the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, Australia is slowly expanding its use of renewables and increasing the use of natural gas in electricity generation, especially in my home state of Western Australia.

The cost of implementing the two per cent Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, the MRET—the provision of an additional two per cent of electricity generation by renewable means—has to date not proved to be particularly burdensome in economic terms. A number of studies have indicated that the expansion of this target to five per cent by 2010 is not beyond the capacity of economic adjustment. At the same time, Australia is developing considerable expertise in the provision of a range of renewable energies. The growth in these industries world wide has been particularly high, and Australia's involvement in the provision of additional renewable energy presents opportunities on both commercial and economic fronts—surely something we should all support.

Australia also has been particularly active in developing technologies directly involved in substantial emissions abatement. Two examples include the development of clean coal technologies and geosequestration. The development of clean coal technologies provides not only enormous opportunities for Australia in terms of substantial emissions abatement but also an enormous opportunity to export this technology overseas. Despite the growth of renewable energy, projections of energy production by organisations such as the International Energy Agency indicate the world will be highly dependent on coal-fired electricity generation well past 2020. As such, emissions abatement from such a high emissions intensity sector will provide a path for reducing worldwide emissions substantially, which is a mandatory requirement for the stabilisation of emissions at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the world's climate system.

The technology of geosequestration also provides an opportunity to sequester substantial quantities of currently generated greenhouse gases in underground geological environments, effectively removing emissions as they are generated and, as such, not contributing to the continuing build-up of man-made gases, as is proposed with the development of the Gorgon gas field, off the coast of Western Australia. It is fairly easy to argue, therefore, for Australia's capability and credibility to successfully market these technologies not only in Australia but world wide if its environmental credentials are enhanced by being a party to the Kyoto protocol. Additionally, any benefits that could be derived from the use of the flexibility mechanisms with these technologies, such as emissions trading, joint implementation and the clean development mechanism mentioned before by Senator Tchen, would be lost if Australia is not a signatory to that protocol.

In Australia, the CSIRO presents a very clear picture of the threats that climate change presents. Climate change will have an enormous impact on our tourism, agriculture and insurance industries, to name just a few, with particular consequences for coastal and regional communities. As mentioned earlier, our contribution to the world's total greenhouse gas emissions is relatively small. Our per capita emissions are high, and any failure by the international community to contain emissions will have a disproportionate impact on Australia.

In the south-west of my home state of Western Australia, a study on climate variability and change found that there has been a decrease of up to 20 per cent in winter rainfall over the past 30 years. It predicted that a long-term decline in rain in the south-west will occur between now and 2070. An increase in temperature since 1960 has already occurred, and a further increase of up to three degrees in the average maximum is predicted over the next 68 years. The conditions for drought are going to worsen over the next half century, and climate change is resulting in conditions that are more variable and less predictable than they were previously. South-west Western Australia has, in effect, suffered 25 years of drought conditions. That is climate change, clear and simple—there is no other way to describe it. It is wrong to think of these things as natural disasters, as if there is nothing we can doing about them. It is more accurate to think of these things as climate disasters, or even greenhouse disasters.

Australian industry believes, as enunciated by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, that it is prudent to take cost-effective action now in relation to climate change issues to facilitate adjustment in the economy and to insulate as best as possible against future impacts. Australian industry has already adopted a range of voluntary cooperative programs such as the Greenhouse Challenge to monitor emissions and to identify actions that will improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon intensity. Australia's ratification of the Kyoto protocol will provide a clear framework within which industry will work and progress towards more clearly specified targets.

What is required with the ratification of the Kyoto protocol is strong national leadership. How do you balance the greenhouse gas emissions of a resource rich state such as Western Australia against strong service sector economies like those of, say, New South Wales or Victoria? The only way you can achieve that balance, that commitment to end the devastating impact of climate change nationally, is through national leadership and through the Australia-wide ratification of the Kyoto protocol. Every Labor government in this country has signalled that it is prepared to work towards the implementation of that protocol. Every state and territory government has committed to working towards that with industry within their own development networks. There is only one stumbling block to the ratification of this protocol—the Prime Minister and this government.

Without the ratification of the Kyoto protocol, which has been agreed to by many multinational companies and by many developed nations, how do we as a nation legitimately take our place at the table to negotiate future strategies to end the impact of climate change and future strategies to develop our own resource sector within the Australian economy? It is only done by ratifying this protocol and by having strong national leadership. This is not a problem that the government can dismiss, as it does with every other issue on the political agenda, by saying, `Oh, well, perhaps the Labor Party should go and talk to the state and territory ministers and exercise some leadership.' This is something on which the federal government has to display some leadership. It has to come to the table. If it is good enough for large multinational companies like Alcoa and for large economies like Japan to realise that this is an important protocol that must ratified, why is it not good enough for Australia?