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'Countdown to Kyoto', International Conference on Climate Change, Canberra, 21 August 1997: address

Visiting United States' Senator, Chuck Hagel, Congressman John Dingell,

Conference Co-Chairmen, Senator Malcolm Wallop and Mr Hugh Morgan,

Australian APEC Studies Centre Chairman, Alan Oxley, distinguished guests,

ladies and gentlemen:-- I am pleased to have this opportunity to present

the Australian Government's position at this important conference on

climate change.

Climate change is one of many environmental issues with major implications

for the economies of APEC. The decision by the APEC Studies Centre to

co-host a conference of this magnitude on climate change is, therefore, one

we welcome.

Climate Change is a high priority for the Australian government:

It is a problem which poses significant environmental and economic threats

at the global level, and for Australia.

I have stated many times, and will do so again, that Australia accepts the

balance of scientific evidence which suggests that human activity is

accelerating the increase in the earth's average temperature, thus

enhancing the natural greenhouse effect, and causing the climate to change.

No country can ignore the potential ramifications -- least of all

Australia, which is already so vulnerable to the natural climatic extremes

of drought and flood associated with El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

phenomenon.

Australian scientists have played a major role in the global research

effort on greenhouse and climate change. As the leading southern

hemispheric country in climate monitoring and research, we have worked

closely with other nations in the Valdivia Group, and with the broader

international community to ensure an integrated global approach to improve

scientific understanding of climate change.

Through our active contribution to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel

on Climate Change (IPCC), we have also played an important part in ensuring

the quality and scientific integrity of the IPCC assessments, and in

enhancing international awareness of the greenhouse issue and climate

change.

Granted, uncertainty remains about the precise impacts of climate change,

but it would be counterproductive at this point to revisit the science

underpinning the Second Assessment Report of the IPCC. It would also be

foolish to act other than in a cautionary way.

When we, the signatories to the Framework Convention on Climate Change

(FCCC), meet in Kyoto this December to consider future greenhouse emission

commitments, we will face a formidable task.

We will need to fashion an agreement in which the economic costs of

precautionary action are commensurate with the extent of scientific

certainty about environmental impacts.

It will be a difficult balance to strike, particularly when the

negotiations involve more than 160 Convention signatories, each with its

own unique interests and circumstances.

Yet we remain positive about the challenges before us in reaching an

agreement.

Australia wants to see an agreement reached in Kyoto, we want to be part of

such an agreement, and we're working hard to make that happen. And we want

it to be an agreement which will make a positive contribution towards a

better global outcome.

We believe an agreement is possible if three basic conditions are met:

* First, any new commitments must be realistic and achievable for all

parties. We must remember that policies don't fix problems -- actions

do. So, overly ambitious targets and timetables are a recipe for

non-compliance and failure. We are about to complete a decade in which

all but a few developed nations will fail to meet an unrealistic

uniform target and timetable set in 1992. We must learn from the

experience.

* Second, any agreement must be environmentally effective. Realistic

targets are a part of this -- they help ensure compliance, which in

turn leads to better environmental outcomes. Also essential, as part

of a long-term solution, is the involvement of developing countries.

Developed countries may have caused 80% of historical emissions, and

should take the lead, but we must confront the reality that emissions

from developing nations will overtake those from Annex One countries

early in the next century. An effective global outcome must therefore

involve all greenhouse contributors.

* Finally, any agreement must be equitable. Let there be no doubt that

the costs of greenhouse abatement will vary enormously from country to

country. In order to be fair, any agreement must require "equality of

effort" from each participating nation. This means that factors which

influence abatement costs must be considered:- growth and emission

intensity of GDP, population growth, emission intensity of exports,

and fossil fuel trade as a percentage of GDP.

As the Deputy Prime Minister has already indicated to your Conference,

failure to take these matters into account will make the economic sacrifice

required to reduce emissions dramatically greater for Australia, relative

to most other developed nations.

This is why Australia is advancing "negotiated differentiation," a process

in which national targets and timetables take into account these core

economic indicators. This approach offers the best hope for an agreement

which is realistic and achievable, environmentally effective, and

equitable. By recognising national differences, our proposal also offers

the best prospect for engaging developing nations in the global effort.

We have worked hard in recent months to communicate our differentiation

proposal internationally.

In June, the Prime Minister's discussions with his counterparts in London

and Washington, highlighted both the priority we place on climate change,

and the unfair impact which uniform emission reduction targets would have

on Australia.

At the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS), I

reinforced these concerns in both my speech to the Assembly, and in

numerous formal and informal meetings.

In July, the Prime Minister appointed Mr Roger Beale, Secretary of the

Department of Environment, Sport and Territories, to lead a delegation of

senior officials in additional discussions in London, Washington, and

Tokyo.

This was followed by bilateral discussions on Climate Change between senior

Australian and Japanese Ministers in Tokyo.

Most recently, we have put our position in Bonn at the 7th meeting of the

Ad-Hoc Group of the Berlin Mandate (AGBM7).

Through these and other activities, we have made progress. A touch of

reality is appearing in the debate.

The United States is consistently refusing to endorse the EU's uniform

emission reduction target of 15% by the year 2010 -- first at the Denver

Summit of Eight, and again at UNGASS. Without US support, the European

target will not succeed.

The United States, New Zealand, and Japan have now all now joined Australia

in expressing concerns about the hypocrisy and unfairness of the EU

proposal to excuse its members from the very uniform emission reduction

target it proposes for Annex One nations. The EU bubble may not have burst

yet, but it has been deflated.

The US Senate voted 95-0 that a Kyoto agreement must not harm the US

economy or exclude developing countries. The same potential economic

impacts which have concerned us are now receiving increased attention in

the US and elsewhere.

And both the G-8 Meeting in Denver and the General Assembly in New York

endorsed for the first time the principle of "equitable targets."

Differentiation is now a principle supported a number of developed nations

including Australia, Japan, Norway, and Korea. We may have different

formulas, but we agree that national emission commitments should be

differentiated, according to the circumstances of each economy. This is a

contention which is also shared by major developing nations such as China.

Despite predictions to the contrary, at the conclusion of the AGBM7 in

Bonn, differentiation remains on the table as one of the proposals to be

considered in Kyoto. What is disturbing, however, is that the major players

are still no closer to finding common ground.

The 8th and final AGBM meeting in Bonn in October will be crucial to the

success of Kyoto, and we will again endeavour to press the merits of our

case.

But we will not lay all our cards on the table, other than to our

timetable. Like Japan, the US and other countries, any emission target

which Australia decides to propose will only be declared when it suits

Australia's interests to do so.

As important as these negotiations are, we recognise that they are only

part of the task. We need to match Australia's negotiations abroad with

strong domestic action to prevent unnecessary greenhouse emissions.

We have already made some significant steps in this regard.

Through co-operative partnerships with industry on the Greenhouse Challenge

program, and with local government in the Cities for Climate Protection

Program, we are and will ensure the prevention of significant emissions

which would otherwise have occurred.

For example:- Greenhouse Challenge signatories, currently responsible for

45% of emissions in the mining, manufacturing and services sectors, have

committed to measures which will result in a 14% reduction in projected

emissions by the year 2000 .

Furthermore, The National Vegetation Initiative (NVI) is an important

component of our national response. By reducing native vegetation clearance

and restoring vegetation cover, the NVI will help to increase greenhouse

"sinks" in Australia.

A major program of climate change research will be maintained -- by

government entities such as the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, and the

Antarctic Division -- and through federal support for non-government bodies

like the Co-Operative Research Centre on Renewable Energy in Perth.

Also important is the 1997 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (covering

results up to 1995), due for release next month. The new Inventory

represents an advance in our understanding of both the technical nature of

Australia's emissions, and the trends in each sector. A good inventory is a

vital pre-requisite for any national policy on greenhouse emission

abatement.

So, in a number of ways, we are making solid domestic response progress.

However, we recognise that Australia can and needs to do more. The World

Resources Institute predict that our carbon emissions from fossil fuel

combustion will increase by some 40% by 2010. Even if, as Australia

advocates, other gases, sources and sinks are incorporated, we still could

face a 28% increase in emissions.

It's not all gloom. There is no denying that emission abatement presents

significant opportunities to simultaneously improve our economic efficiency

and environmental performance.

Many options available to us make economic sense irrespective of their

contribution to our greenhouse performance. And many of these "no-regrets"

measures have other positive environmental effects as well as reducing

greenhouse emissions. Better fuel-efficiency in our cars, for example,

reduces greenhouse emissions, saves money, but also conserves non-renewable

resources, and reduces urban air pollution.

As part of the challenge to do even better, the Prime Minister has asked Mr

Roger Beale to oversee a new Climate Change Task Force, to examine further

specific measures to strengthen Australia's domestic greenhouse response.

Additionally, the potential of policies likely to enhance

cost-effectiveness of measures will be examined. Emissions trading in a

domestic and/or international context are one example.

The contributions of the Task Force will be reflected in the National

Greenhouse Strategy, and the White Paper on Sustainable Energy, due for

release later this year.

While we look to do our environmental duty at home, we must defend

Australia's reasonable interests in the international negotiations.

In doing so, I am pleased to note that the Government has the broad

bipartisan support of the Labor Party, industry and the unions -- not

something you see every day in Australian politics.

That consensus is built on the right balance between what Australia should

realistically do as part of a global effort on greenhouse, and what we as a

nation can afford -- the right balance between protecting the environment

and protecting Australian jobs.

Australians all, need to recognise that not everyone at the table in Kyoto

has our interests at heart. Indeed, some may well see it as an opportunity

to gain economic advantage at our expense.

The Deputy Prime Minister has already described in detail what the

ramifications are for our economy, should negotiations in Kyoto go against

us. We must as a nation be awake to this threat.

We mustn't lose sight of the historical importance of what happens in

Kyoto. When historians look back 25 years from now, they may view our

decisions on Climate Change as the most crucial of 1997.

Historically, Australia has played a key role in many international

environmental agreements, and we seek to play the same pro-active role with

respect to climate change.

We have been a significant contributor to advances in greenhouse science,

and a constructive participant in negotiations towards the precautionary

global action we know is needed.

We want to be a part of an agreement in Kyoto which progresses that global

action forward, but we will not unfairly sacrifice our economic future for

an agreement which is unrealistic, inequitable or ineffective.

Australia has never asked for a free ride -- just a fair go. In the

interests of our economy and our environment, we will continue to seek it

at Kyoto and beyond.