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Thursday, 1 April 2004
Page: 22672

Senator EGGLESTON (5:16 PM) —The Kyoto Protocol Ratification Bill 2003 [No. 2] has received a lot of interest. There is quite a lot of misunderstanding in the community about the Kyoto protocol. We in the Environment, Communication, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee conducted an inquiry into this private member's bill. We received 39 submissions and saw 18 witnesses from 15 organisations. The committee received no truly persuasive evidence that Australia should ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Senator Lundy —That's your opinion.

Senator EGGLESTON —That was the majority opinion. To the contrary, the evidence received was persuasive the other way: there is no case in Australia's interest to ratify the Kyoto protocol. I would like to go into the reasons for that, but not at great length, considering the time and the need to conclude. All parties agreed, on a positive note, that there is a problem in this day and age with greenhouse gases and global warming. We have no argument about that, and we believe that it is necessary that countries around the world take actions to do what they can to abate greenhouse gas emissions and to prevent, as far as is possible, climate change. That is not something that anyone argues about. What is argued about is whether or not the Kyoto protocol provides a useful mechanism to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and climate change is thereby ameliorated. It is the opinion of the government that the Kyoto protocol—while it is, no doubt, a genuine attempt to seek to control greenhouse gas emissions—is a flawed treaty, a flawed protocol, which really will do very little to ameliorate greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change.

The fact of the matter is that most of the world's large emitters are not signatories to the Kyoto protocol. The United States and Russia, who are the large emitters in the world, are not signatories to this protocol. The impact of Australia signing on to the protocol would only be about a one per cent reduction of world greenhouse gas emissions. The protocol will not come into operation unless either the United States or Russia sign on and bring the number of signing-on nations up to 55 per cent. The European Union is very critical of Australia and likes to portray itself as something of a paragon of moral virtue in terms of concern about the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. Of the 15 members of the European Union as it stands now, 12 are not meeting their greenhouse targets under the Kyoto protocol. Of those that do, they are very largely doing it by use of nuclear energy—which one might say is a rather flawed way to achieve an environmental outcome, given the problems with nuclear waste disposal.

Australia and this Australian government have an outstanding record in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Without signing on to the protocol we are going to meet our targets. We acknowledge the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we also feel that the Kyoto protocol will do little to enhance the process whereby greenhouse gas emissions can be controlled. More specifically in Australia's case there is concern, as was expressed to the inquiry by a number of industries, that signing on to Kyoto will mean an unnecessary shackling of major industries which employ a lot of people in Australia. That would result in a loss of employment and, very probably, the loss of industries as they move offshore to other places. So signing on to this flawed treaty not only will not produce any significant reduction in greenhouse gas emission levels on a worldwide basis; it will also do positive economic damage to Australia, because it will put a shackle around the economic legs of this country which does not have to be there and which will have a very negative effect on our economy.

We believe that the world needs some sort of agreement which covers not only the developed nations of the world but also the developing nations, so that large emitters like India and China—and, indeed, the group of developing countries called the G77—actually sign on to something which is legally binding to constrain their greenhouse gas emissions and which will do something to reduce those emissions. As it stands at the moment, countries like India and China, although they are signatories, I believe, to the protocol, have made it quite clear that they are not willing to accept or discuss anything that looks like a legally binding obligation to constrain their greenhouse gas emissions. For the Senate's information, China is the second largest global emitter—and its emissions are continuing to grow in line with its rapid economic growth—and India is the fifth largest global emitter, and they have refused to sign any legally binding obligations to control their emissions.

The model we look at is the Montreal protocol, which was signed by a large number of countries around the world, including developed countries and developing countries. It has had a very significant impact on controlling gas emissions. The Montreal protocol is significant because it is an international treaty that does cover most of the world. Kyoto is only signed on to by a very small group of nations, it does not offer any real promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and it will have an adverse impact on Australia's economy were Australia to sign on. Against that background, we have a situation in Australia where the Australian government, the Howard government, has a very outstanding record in doing what it can to control greenhouse gases through the establishment of the world's first greenhouse office and a wide number of other measures that it has taken.

The government believe that greenhouse gases are damaging to the world's climate, we believe that it is necessary that something should be done to control greenhouse gas emissions around the world, but we do no believe that the Kyoto protocol and treaty are the answer to that problem. As I have said, we look forward to the day when a treaty is developed, through the United Nations process hopefully, which most of the world's emitters—the United States, the South American countries, the eastern European countries and the great emitters of Asia—will sign on to.

When that kind of treaty is developed, then Australia will be more than happy to be a part of it. We are not happy to sign on to Kyoto because the treaty is flawed, and it is wrong to sign a treaty which is not going to meet, and has no hope of ever meeting, the objectives which it has set out to do. That is why the government have opposed this bill put forward by Senator Brown, who is without any doubt a very sincere proponent of care for the environment and is certainly fully aware of the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions in terms of climate change. But I leave the Senate with the message and the thought that, regardless of the fact that the Howard government are declining to sign on to the Kyoto protocol, we are meeting our targets. This country, more than most in the world, is quite genuinely concerned about greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, I simply repeat the point I made earlier: the Europeans, particularly the Germans, who are so critical of us for failing to sign on to the Kyoto protocol, are extremely hypocritical. As I said, only 12 of the 15 member nations of the European Union are actually meeting their Kyoto protocol targets and, for the very large part, those that are are using nuclear energy to meet those targets. This is why the Howard government have no sense of regret in not signing the Kyoto protocol. We are meeting our targets and protecting the interests of Australia, and that is why we will oppose this bill.