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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2353

Senator MARGETTS (7.36 p.m.) —To Australia's shame, today's Financial Review reported the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans, stating that Australia may publicly abandon any responsibility to the environment and humanity by refusing absolutely to take any action on greenhouse emission reduction. He has said that cabinet has endorsed this option. For the Acting Prime Minister to stress such an option in such strong terms is the equivalent of stating that this is his and cabinet's preferred option. After all, this option has never been explicitly stated before.

  It has always been an issue of wonder that Australia could speak so strongly on the greenhouse effect while steadfastly refusing to do anything about it at home. It is now clear that there has never been an intention to do anything, that Australian representatives were mouthing hypocrisies.

  Now the government will come clean in international fora, admitting that it considers itself exempt. The kind of impact this will have on the attempt to get all nations, particularly developing nations, to take efficiency measures can easily be imagined. We are saying that we will not do anything in spite of the fact that every other developed nation has shown that substantial improvements are possible and have done so while their economies have outdone ours.

Senator Kemp —Which countries?

Senator MARGETTS —I will give Senator Kemp examples. Currently, our per capita greenhouse emissions are 11 tonnes per person. By contrast, those of the United States are 10 per cent lower; Canada's emissions are 17 per cent lower; and those of OECD countries are an average of 45 per cent lower. We have among the highest emission levels per person in the world. Our efficiency levels show that it is not because we are producing so much, but because we are slack, irresponsible and selfishly allowing our irresponsibility to impact on nature and the rest of humanity.

  When Australia, with a per capita energy use level of 215 gigajoules per annum, says that we will not do anything, why should any nation like China, with a per capita energy consumption of 24 gigajoules, do anything but increase energy consumption as fast as possible? Chinese consumption is high compared with the rest of industrialising Asia—Thailand consumes 17 gigajoules; the Philippines, 12; Indonesia, 10; and India, with a population of nearly one billion, currently consumes only 9 gigajoules per capita.

  There is a simple way to measure the efficiency of energy used in what a nation produces: energy use is divided by gross domestic product. International studies show that in Canada and the United States between 1970 and 1986—I start with the countries with the highest energy per GDP ratio, the most wasteful consumption rate—that ratio declined by 35 per cent.

Senator Kemp —Hydro power.

Senator MARGETTS —European nations, starting at a much lower level, declined by about 33 per cent. Japan's energy per GDP ratio—this includes hydro power—declined in the same period by 33 per cent. Australia bucked this trend and saw its energy-GDP ratio increase by 10 per cent. Is Australia some sort of unique case? Is it the tyranny of distance perhaps?

   Neither Canada nor the US is a small nation. When we include transport over the US-Canadian border and now over the Mexican border, distances are vast. Australia is also one of the most urbanised nations on earth. Although we have vast areas, few people live in them and most live in greater urban areas. Few people live in the dispersed condition.

  The transport demands and demands of large dispersed rural population in North America greatly increased its transport needs. Canada and the United States are far colder climatically than Australia. These are both structural factors that increase demand for energy, yet these nations have increased the efficiency of energy use by 35 per cent.

  Japan, starting with a rate of efficiency far higher than Australia, has increased efficiency by 34 per cent. The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Sweden have all increased their efficiency by about 30 per cent or more. Efficiency therefore does not relate solely to transport; it is industrial efficiency, too. Australia decreased its efficiency over this period. Currently Japan and Germany use respectively 65 per cent and 47 per cent the energy that we do for every dollar's worth of goods that they produce. Clearly they have increased the gap between their efficiency and ours even further.

  Canada, the United States of America and Sweden have significant amounts of hydro power, which does not change price with oil and does not pollute, although it is not free of environmental problems. Nevertheless, these nations with high amounts of hydro and less need to reduce energy use have all increased their energy efficiency by 33 per cent. We use coal and petrol and we have decreased our efficiency.

  Australia has one of the highest levels of petrol consumption per capita in the world. Most of this gives no benefit to the economy. An increasing amount of this consumption is dependent on oil imports, and so has negative effects on our economy. Our oil consumption is mainly for transport, and transport consumption involves structural issues that make change difficult in the short term.

  Along with the economic problems of oil supply and sudden changes in price, there are the continual problems of the emissions from cars and vehicles, emissions which are responsible for a third of our greenhouse emissions. Cars produce greenhouse emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, emissions that lead to acid rain, lead emissions, carcinogenic polycyclic hydrocarbon and aromatic carbon emissions, ozone emissions, and the consequent chemical soup that results when sunshine hits this mess to turn it into photochemical smog. These emissions pose a number of health and environmental problems.

  Economic problems are caused by the cost of pandering to sprawling cities, and often part of these costs are viciously cyclic, in that one impact of sprawl is that it makes alternatives, from public transport to walking, more difficult. It makes car ownership more necessary to maintain access to basic social needs. Infrastructure of all sorts—from provision of electricity and water to provision of policing—becomes more expensive. With more people dependent on cars, the need—and cost—of providing, building, maintaining and regulating roads increases. The cost of providing parking, using large amounts of prime real estate, increases. All of this adds further to urban social problems and dis-equity. None of it benefits our economy, ecology or quality of life.

  The government has adopted an attitude that leads it to ignore these issues. In the process it ignores many basic aspects of equity, ecological sustainability and economics. Energy conservation and energy efficiency are not just about greenhouse or climate conventions; and government abandonment of the climate convention is more about its refusal to deal with our incredibly profligate and economically unproductive use of energy than about any other thing. As such it represents a high level of social irresponsibility.

  It costs nothing to demand that industry sells Australia the same cars that it will sell in Europe and the United States. It costs nothing to ensure that at the very least new buildings have decent levels of insulation and energy conservation built in. Good design costs less in the long run. In fact, it will save us money—money that otherwise must be spent on energy production so that those who can afford to do so can power heaters and air conditioners to make houses that are poorly built more livable. Putting in basic efficiency standards on vehicles would ensure that our transport is not too much more expensive than that of other nations, and would reduce the need to import.

  It does not improve our competitive position to use twice as much energy in production than our competitors. The answer is not to subsidise power. The answer is to conserve power, to develop efficient technology, and to reduce energy consumption per unit. The answer is also to exercise just a bit of foresight and recognise that as materials and their costs increase, alternatives must be developed in sufficient time so that they will be available, instead of waiting for a crisis and trying to cope with a dire situation, and demand sacrifices that could be avoided by a grain of wisdom now.

  Virtually all OECD nations have been able to greatly increase their efficiency. Closer to home, California, a competitor in the Pacific, has grown economically and in population, while actually having its total electricity consumption decline from 140 billion KWh in 1980 to 114 billion KWh in 1990. This is a decline of nearly 20 per cent in 10 years. California went from generating 50 per cent of power from oil to generating only one per cent from oil. The majority comes from gas, but 10 per cent now comes from co-generation, energy use that otherwise would go to waste. Seven per cent comes from geothermal sources. California also has the distinction of producing more overall energy from wind and solar sources than any state or nation on earth. Electricity conversion is generally responsible for about a third of greenhouse emissions. Alternative energy such as wind, geothermal and co-generation are included as energy use.

  For how long have we had to listen to industrial troglodytes pushing the line that the main way to improve industry's competitiveness is via labour market reforms, tax cuts and less environment scrutiny? When least cost planning is suggested, they head for the bunkers. The coal industry might not be happy but, as Amory Lovin from the Rocky Mountain Institute suggested, if we do not mine coal it is not entirely useless—it is very good for holding up the ground.

  The people who are leading us to environmental and social disaster predict doom every time anyone suggests we try something else. It is clear that we can reduce energy use, and the leading developed economies have done so without ill effects. If we are to survive economically or ecologically, we must also undertake to do so. The coming climate convention is the perfect opportunity to do so. (Time expired)