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WORKING IT OUT: AUSTRALIA'S APPROACH TO THE HAGUE CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE


An address to the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
by the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon Robert Hill

14 November 2000, Brisbane

This week the representatives of more than 160 nations have gathered in The Hague for the 6th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change.

COP6 is without doubt the most significant meeting of these nations since the Kyoto Protocol was hammered out in an all night negotiating session in the former Japanese capital in November of 1997.

In layman's terms, Kyoto set down the targets which developed nations agreed to meet. The Hague will now finalise the rules by which those targets can be met.

Despite three years of intensive negotiations since the Kyoto Meeting involving thousands of officials and scientists and countless hours of meetings, conferences and workshops, a successful outcome at COP 6 in The Hague is far from being a foregone conclusion.

Australia will go The Hague in the knowledge that its negotiating position on differentiated targets was accepted by the international community in Kyoto. In many ways our position was vital to a successful outcome at that meeting.

At the end of the day we left Kyoto with a target which was both challenging and fair - it would require Australia to accept an economic burden comparable to that accepted by other nations.

We would have to reduce our growth in emissions by 2010 from an expected 43 per cent above 1990 levels, down to just 8 per cent.

Australia's critics at the time of the Kyoto meeting claimed we had been given a special deal which would require us to do nothing. Despite our government having since committed $1billion to greenhouse reduction programs, those same critics are now complaining that we are not doing enough.

At Kyoto we also took a firm stand on the inclusion of sinks and flexibility mechanisms such as carbon credit trading and the Clean Development Fund. We were also successful in securing the inclusion of what became known as the Australia clause which would ensure us credit for slowing down the rate of landclearing in Australia - an important measure given that land use change was responsible for about 30 per cent of our emissions profile. Along with the obvious greenhouse benefit, slowing the rate of landclearing would also help prevent salinity and conserve native habitat. It was disappointing that despite all of these positive environmental outcomes to be gained, Australian green groups chose not to support our position in Kyoto preferring instead to place ideological solidarity with their international counterparts in the green movement above Australia's environmental interests.

Three years on in The Hague and Australia again will be seeking to ensure that all developed nations are afforded the maximum flexibility to allow them to achieve their targets through access to low cost abatement measures. Just as the acceptance of differentiated targets was the difference between success and failure of the Kyoto meeting, flexibility and access to low cost abatement measures will be the key to success in The Hague and the path toward a speedier implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

And I could take that a step further. There has been much discussion of the role of developing nations in efforts to combat global warming. It is predicted that the greenhouse emissions of the developing world will soon overtake those of the developed nations who are covered by the Kyoto Protocol. So a meaningful involvement of developing nations in the protocol is essential. Indeed, the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has set down this involvement as a pre-condition for US ratification of the protocol.

The acceptance of the fairness of differentiated targets and providing for maximum flexibility in achieving those targets are both essential pre-requisites for the future inclusion of the developing world. If the Kyoto Protocol is to become the ideologically rigid document which some green groups want it to be, then it will certainly fail - both by dissuading developed nations from moving toward ratification and by locking out the developing world.

Given the increased certainty of the science of global warming and the impact that human activity is having on the planet's climate system, such an outcome is simply unacceptable.

The science of global warming can be both complex and puzzling - not unlike a Florida presidential ballot paper.

But that science is firming up.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - which draws on the work of hundreds of climate change researchers from around the globe - will hand down its third assessment report next year. It is expected that report will conclude that there is now stronger evidence of human influence on the planet's climate system and that global warming is occurring at a faster rate than previously thought.

What it does confirm is that the international community cannot wait any longer to take definitive action to reduce our carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

It is a message which is being taken on board by an ever-growing number of major international industrial players - motor vehicle manufacturers, chemical companies, electrical goods manufacturers, and even fossil fuel producers.

When I attend COP6 early next week, I will take with me an already impressive list of actions and achievements which confirm that Australia too has heard this message and is playing its part in finding a solution.

The involvement of the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry in our Greenhouse Challenge program and the attendance here this evening of so many Queensland company representatives is further confirmation that Australian industry is also seriously engaging in this international effort.

The Greenhouse Challenge program was one of Australia's first responses to climate change.

This voluntary program has already seen companies and industry groups commit to actions which will cut an estimated 20 million tonnes of carbon off business as usual growth projections. Indications so far are that they are ahead of schedule in delivering those savings.

In the lead-up to Kyoto in 1997 the Prime Minister committed an additional $27 million to the Greenhouse Challenge program with an aim to expand the involvement of both small and medium size businesses. At this stage we appear to be on track to achieve the Prime Minister's target of having more than 1,000 companies participating in the program by 2005.

Your Chamber's involvement as part of the program's Third Party Recruitment Strategy will make a major contribution to achieving that goal. That strategy so far has met its aim of more than trebling the rate at which medium and small-scale industry operators become involved in the Greenhouse Challenge program. We look forward to Queensland continuing if not improving on that success rate.

One of the key areas of interest of companies which have already begun implementing actions to reduce greenhouse emissions is the issue of early crediting. This is an issue which has been given serious consideration for some time now by the Ministerial Council on Greenhouse and we understand industry's desire for greater certainty in this area. I am pleased to announce tonight that Cabinet has agreed in principle to an early crediting scheme and to the release of a discussion paper on this issue which will form the basis of consultations with industry on the development of the scheme.

Such arrangements would allow industry to earn credits for actions that help reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emission profile. Credits would be exchangeable for emission allowances that would be assigned to Australia if the Kyoto Protocol enters into force. Participation by industry would be entirely voluntary.

I was disappointed to see a headline in this morning's press on this important issue which read "All credit to the big polluters". The aim of this action is, in fact, exactly the opposite. Far from rewarding big polluters, we are seeking to protect and encourage those industries that are serious about reducing their emissions. Companies which make the commitment to act now ahead of any international obligation are clearly doing the right thing by the environment. It would seem only fair to ensure that companies taking such early action are not penalised for having done so. The scheme would also act to further stimulate investment by Australian industry in greenhouse gas abatement measures. The discussion paper will be available on the Australian Greenhouse Office web site from tomorrow.

This proposed early crediting scheme is further proof of the advances made by our government and Australia since we accepted our target in Kyoto.

Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie once wrote that "One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done."

This drive to always achieve more is reflected in our implementation of the domestic actions needed to meet our Kyoto target. We need to be continually on the lookout for new opportunities to achieve a better emissions outcome.

It would be a mistake, however, not to acknowledge the enormous amount of work Australia has already done in this area.

It is surprising how little recognition we receive here in Australia. For example when our Renewable Energy Targets Bill was recently blocked in the Senate one newspaper wrote:

"Failure to pass the bill will leave Environment Minister Robert Hill to face a global warming conference at The Hague with little proof that Australia has made big changes to combat the problem."

It's as if our $1 billion investment in greenhouse reduction programs, the achievements of the Greenhouse Challenge, and a range of cooperative measures taken across industry sectors count for nothing - at least in the eyes of some.

Fortunately our efforts have gained some much-deserved international recognition. Earlier this year Australia was invited to address the Washington-based Pew Centre for Global Climate Change on the success of our domestic actions.

At that same conference, Jonathan Pershing, the Head of the Energy and Environment Division of the International Energy Agency, held out Australia as a leading example of a nation taking domestic actions to achieve its target. He later wrote to my department;

"I am indeed impressed by the depth of the actions being undertaken in Australia."

And so he should be.

Australia is further advanced in implementing its domestic actions to reduce emissions than just about any other signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.

In the media reports surrounding The Hague you will no doubt hear the various green groups claim that Australia, despite contributing about 1 per cent of global emissions, is the highest emitter on a per capita basis. What you won't hear them do is give Australia credit for its $1 billion domestic response which on a per capita basis is the highest investment by a national government to reduce emissions.

But it is not just the monetary size of our response that deserves some credit - it is also the range and scope of that response.

We established the Australian Greenhouse Office - the first national office of its type in the world - to bring together under one roof the various programs required to meet our target.

A key focus of our efforts has been to support the commercialisation and uptake of renewable energy technologies. The AGO manages programs which will invest $387 million to support industry to develop renewable energy. This will help establish a range of alternative energy technologies such as cogeneration, photovoltaics, biomass and wind farms.

We have even taken this investment in Australian homes through a $31 million program to subsidise the installation of household photovoltaic power systems. The community response to this program has been nothing short of overwhelming.

As I mentioned earlier, we are also seeking to pass legislation which would require electricity suppliers to source an additional two per cent of their energy from renewable sources. This measure would see an unprecedented investment boom in the renewable energy industry - an estimated $2 billion would be invested in delivering cleaner energy. It is simply beyond comprehension that political point scoring and ideological posturing by non-government Senators has put this investment boom and its associated greenhouse reduction benefits on hold.

It is also disappointing that the people who have blocked this legislation are the same ones who are attacking Australia for not doing enough to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The transport sector is a major contributor to our emissions profile. Our government has promoted the conversion of vehicles, particularly heavy vehicles to cleaner fuels such as LPG and CNG. We have committed $75 million to subsidise the conversion of heavy vehicles and a further $7 million to increase the infrastructure such as refuelling stations required to support the move of fleets to cleaner fuels.

The results of this investment are already on show with State governments in Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales, along with the Brisbane City Council receiving more than $10 million in funding to either convert existing buses or purchase new CNG powered buses. This will result in savings of more than 6,000 tonnes of emissions over the life of the buses.

To further support this investment strategy, the government has been working with the motor vehicle industry to set higher standards for fuel consumption and emissions from new vehicle engines. We are also requiring fuel suppliers to improve fuel standards in line with the new engine standards. Last week in the Senate we took a further step when the Government successfully passed legislation to establish national fuel standards. This is the first time that legislation has been passed which makes fuel suppliers legally responsible for the quality of fuel that they provide. In addition to the greenhouse emission benefits of improved engines using cleaner fuels, there are of course major benefits to be gained in terms of air quality, particularly within our major cities.

This cooperative approach has been central to our effort with other industry groups, For example we are working with electrical goods manufacturers to develop performance codes and standards for domestic appliances and industrial equipment. Similarly, energy efficiency standards for new housing and commercial buildings are being developed with the building industry and will be incorporated in the Building Code of Australia.

And, of course, you would all be aware of our efforts to work with industry to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through programs such as the greenhouse Challenge and the development of eco-efficiency agreements with key industry bodies.

Finally, we have invested $400 million in a Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program - or G-GAP, as some people call it - which is designed to support projects which can deliver the greatest amount of greenhouse gas abatement per dollar invested. We have already received bids worth $1.7 billion from proponents seeking a share of the first year's funding of $100 million - a clear indication that there is strong support for our efforts.

The G-GAP funding also provides Queensland with a unique opportunity to do something constructive about its current problems with excessive landclearing. As I acknowledged earlier, Australia has the chance to contribute to its Kyoto target by slowing the rate of landclearing. Given that some 85 per cent of this clearing occurs in Queensland, a better Australian outcome can only be achieved if this state is prepared to implement a responsible regime of land-clearance controls. Such a move would provide multiple environmental benefits - reducing our emissions growth, guarding against salinity and soil degradation, and conserving endangered native habitat.

Our government has indicated it is prepared to consider providing support to the Queensland government to help compensate landowners affected by the introduction of such a scheme. This support is predicated on the basis of the greenhouse benefits it would deliver Australia in terms of meeting its Kyoto target.

It would therefore require the acceptance and enforcement by the Queensland Government of a cap on landclearing to ensure such an outcome was delivered. I welcome this morning's media report that one of the key farming groups, AgForce, is reconsidering its opposition to a landclearing cap. The Queensland Government needs to seize this opportunity, negotiate seriously with landholders and help deliver a better outcome. While it has missed the first round of G-GAP funding, the Queensland Government could then look to the second round of funding for support from the Commonwealth to meet the cost of such measures.

In closing, can I again acknowledge the difficult task that faces all nations at this week's important meeting in The Hague. Australia is committed to playing a constructive role at this meeting and we hope to deliver an outcome which is of benefit to the global environment, At the same time, however, will be seeking to ensure that any final resolution is fair to our economy and our industry and the jobs its supports.

The Kyoto Protocol does not mean that we can't have economic growth in Australia. What it does mean is that we have to be both smarter and more efficient in the way we go about achieving that growth.

A successful resolution of the outstanding matters in The Hague will allow us to move forward with greater certainty. The time for talking is over. We can not allow the aims of the Kyoto Protocol to become bogged down in a never-ending series of international conferences and diplomatic negotiations. Australia has committed to a fair target and we are getting on with the job of achieving it.

As I said earlier, the commitment of industry organisations such as the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and so many individual companies across the country gives me even greater confidence that Australia will meet its obligations to the international community and the global environment.

Commonwealth of Australia