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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 682

Senator MARGETTS —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the article in the Australian Financial Review of 29 June 1994 when Senator Gareth Evans was quoted as saying that the Australian government maintained the option of not accepting climate change commitments, and also to his response to my question on notice of 5 July 1994 in which he stated that Australia is committed to the convention on climate change and to implementing the necessary measures to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. I ask: what is the position of the Australian government in relation to the issue of climate change, particularly in relation to the current meeting in Geneva of the intergovernmental negotiating committee on the climate change convention?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Australia does remain committed to effective global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian delegation, accordingly, will be taking an active role in the current negotiating session to promote development of realistic and equitable proposals—I stress that—for increasing the effectiveness of global action towards the objective of the climate change convention.

  The current session is important and will set the stage for the first conference of the parties in Berlin in March next year. The central issue for Australia at the negotiating committee is the preparatory work on the review of the adequacy of the commitments in the convention which is to be undertaken by the conference of the parties.

  There is clearly a need to review the commitments in the convention. On present indications the commitments will not stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at any level. They do not deal with the post-2000 period and they only apply to developed country parties.

  The government will assess any initiatives for stronger commitments for their effects on our economy and our trade competitiveness, as I said before, as well as for their environmental merit. I repeat: we will not implement response measures that would have net adverse economic impacts nationally or on Australia's trade competitiveness in the absence of similar action being taken by major greenhouse gas producing countries.

  Our delegation will be actively promoting arrangements for an equitable sharing of the costs of reducing emissions and the greater involvement of developing countries over time in controlling emissions. There will be some difficulty in Australia meeting the implied target in the convention on the current measures. I think that has become very clear. As a result, the government will be considering our approach to climate change in the lead-up to the major conference of the parties. This consideration will include an assessment of possible further measures and, again, their impact on the Australian economy as well as on the environment.

Senator MARGETTS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Let me try to get this totally clear: are the Australian negotiators currently pushing for firm commitments or for a position which would weaken any strong call for firm commitments from industrial nations, including Australia?

Senator GARETH EVANS —We are all conscious of the nature of the problem. We are conscious of the need for the world as a whole, both developed and developing countries, to work together to resolve it. The scientific evidence, about which there has been quite a lot of controversy in the past, is increasingly shaping up in a way that makes very clear that the world does have a problem and we are increasingly getting closer to being able to quantify that problem. As a result, we all have a responsibility, internationally, to provide answers to that problem and to make a contribution towards solving it. But Australia is not going to be put in a position of becoming involved in arrangements which are manifestly inequitable in their impact. It is that particular balance that we are going to have to have very clearly in mind and try to work out as the negotiations proceed.