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An address to the
Australian Ecogeneration Association Conference
by the
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon Robert Hill

March 28, 2001

In December 1997 the developed nations of the world forged the basis of an agreement to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Kyoto Protocol, as it has become known, set individual targets for member nations which, if achieved, would result in an overall reduction of 5 per cent of global emissions.

Australia accepted a fair and challenging target which would require our nation to reduce its projected growth of greenhouse emissions from an expected 43 per cent above 1990 levels down to just 8 per cent by the year 2010.

The achievement of this target would require Australia to shoulder an economic burden comparable to that borne by other member nations in achieving their targets.

Some critics within Australia claimed somewhat hysterically at the time of the Kyoto Protocol that our target would require us to do next to nothing to reduce emissions. These same critics now claim the opposite - that Australia needs to be doing far more than it is currently to achieve its target.

Despite these somewhat illogical criticisms, Australia has always been and remains committed to delivering on its Kyoto commitment.

Some good advice on hitting targets can be found in a quote from an early 20th Century Manual on Archery which states:

"The most important thing is to begin, and to begin with a great spirit of decisiveness and boldness."

Australia has begun the massive effort required to meet our greenhouse gas objectives and that beginning has been both bold and decisive.

In fact, we didn't even wait for our target to be settled. Even before the meeting in Kyoto, the Prime Minister announced what was, at the time, the most extensive suite of programs even undertaken by an Australian government to combat global warming.

That $180 million package of measures has since been surpassed by even greater funding and more expansive policy commitments from our government.

Australia has now committed almost $1 billion to programs and initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving urban air quality.

This commitment matches anything offered by other signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, on a per capita basis, our funding commitments would be among the largest in the world.

While we appear to get little credit from the domestic media and the knockers within the Australia environment lobby, we are in fact well advanced in implementing the domestic actions which will be required to meet our national target.

Large sections of Australian industry have shown that they are willing to contribute to this national challenge. For example, the voluntary Greenhouse Challenge program now involves more than 500 industry associations and individual companies in efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. Already the commitments made under this program will result in an estimated saving of 23 million tonnes of carbon off business as usual projections.

State governments have committed to delivering reductions as part of the National Greenhouse Strategy - although their performance on implementing actions under this strategy has been patchy, to say the least.

Local government has become involved through participation in the international Cities for Climate Protection Program which assists local councils to identify the sources of emissions within their control and to then develop strategies to significantly reduce these emissions. Councils covering more than 55 per cent of the Australian population are now signed up to this program. Australia has more local governments involved in this program than any other nation.

We have also been able to take the greenhouse gas reduction message to indigenous communities in remote locations through the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Council on Greenhouse recently approved $8 million for an Indigenous Communities Support project to help expand the use of renewable energy in about 250 indigenous communities.

We have now taken the next logical step in this process by directly involving the Australian community at a suburban household level. You may have seen a new series of television advertisements featuring Don Burke which urge Australians to become part of the solution to this global problem.

The advertisements acknowledge the good work already being done by industry, manufacturers, and community groups. The acknowledgement of this good work appears to have annoyed critics of the government who insist on falsely portraying Australia as uncaring and reluctant on greenhouse issues.

Importantly, as I said, the ads seek to engage Australian households by providing them with a range of simple but effective methods of reducing their energy usage, resulting in a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. One Melbourne newspaper columnist recently took exception to the simplicity of these measures, implying that their benefits were so miniscule that they were practically worthless.

You only need to consider, however, that your average household may recycle just a couple of plastic bottles or milk cartons and four or five newspapers each week. In the overall scheme of waste management, that may be completely insignificant.

But by showing Australian families how simple recycling is and the benefits of getting involved in recycling, these individual households now contribute to a national recycling effort which is the envy of the world. For example, Australia consistently achieves the highest rate of recycling of newspapers in the world - and that is all due to the weekly efforts of everyday Australian families in their own homes.

Unfortunately the criticism of the greenhouse ads seems to reflect a mean-spirited attitude held by some who refuse to give Australia any credit for the good environmental work we do.

Even if the average household was to save five per cent of their energy consumption through following the tips promoted in the Don Burke ads, this would produce a reduction of 4 million tonnes in Australia's greenhouse emissions each year.

In the process, Australian families become part of the solution, not just part of the problem. The recycling success story shows it can be done.

But to achieve a better greenhouse gas outcome it has also been necessary to address both the production and supply of energy.

You would be aware, for example, that the Howard Government recently was successful in passing legislation which will require energy producers to source an additional two per cent of their power from renewable energy sources.

This will create an estimated $2 billion worth of new investment in the renewable energy industry.

Since passage of the legislation late last year we are already of aware of new project proposals which include up to 1,000 megawatts of wind projects, the possibility of a wind turbine manufacturing facility being built in Australia, and the upgrade of a number of cogeneration and hydro generation plants to access Renewable Energy Certificates.

We have also complemented this legislation with direct financial support of more than $380 million in programs aimed at improving the commercialisation and uptake of renewable energy.

Getting the supply side of the energy equation right will also be important to our end goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy market reform has already delivered substantial benefits to the national economy - its benefits so far to the environment remain questionable. Reform has brought about reduced energy input costs for businesses allowing Australian industry to compete successfully in the global economy.

Unfortunately the reform process to date has not decreased greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to a price driven increase in the market share of brown coal-fired electricity. As a result, emissions from electricity generation have already risen by more than 30 per cent between 1990 and 1998. Slowing that rate of growth is vital to meeting our Kyoto commitment.

Gas fired cogeneration has the potential to significantly contribute to a better outcome.

Cogeneration currently represents approximately five per cent of total installed generation capacity in Australia - less than many comparative countries. The Commonwealth is currently considering options to energy market reform that will remove impediments to the uptake of such technologies.

As further evidence of our government's commitment to advancing the benefits of cogeneration, I am pleased to announce today a major funding boost for the Australian cogeneration industry.

The commitment of up to $26 million from the Commonwealth's $400 million Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program will help fund projects which are expected to deliver a saving of more than 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the five years of the Kyoto commitment period.

Origin Energy Power Limited will receive up to $16 million to develop and manage a portfolio of cogeneration plants across Australia. The greenhouse gas savings generated by these plants would be the equivalent of taking 96,000 cars off the road.

A further grant of up to $10 million will assist the Australian Ecogeneration Association to develop up to 12 cogeneration plants.

Given that cogeneration is at least three times more greenhouse efficient than conventional power generation, these projects have the potential to deliver significant greenhouse gas reductions.

As well as encouraging the adoption of new and alternative energy production, there is great scope to improve greenhouse outcomes through improved energy efficiency. The Government has introduced new standards for power generators on July 1, 2000.

I'm pleased to announce today that Delta Electricity - the second largest power generator in the National electricity Market - has become the first power generation company to commit to the Generator Efficiency Standards measure.

As you would be aware, a number of State governments sought to have these standards mandated through legislation. The Commonwealth, however, was swayed by the industry's support for a cooperative model under which the standards would be secured through Deeds of Agreement.

At the end of the day, this cooperative approach must still meet the basic principles which a legislative approach would have delivered - that there be a level playing field, that the standards will be met, and that there is no room for free riders.

Delta Electricity is leading the way for other power generators in Australia by recognising the importance of achieving and maintaining best practice efficiency in electricity generation as part of the industry's contribution to reducing greenhouse emissions.

More importantly, Delta is showing that there is no reason for other power generators not to embrace the cooperative approach presented by the Deeds of Agreement.

As I said, there should be no free rides at the expense of companies who are prepared to do the right thing.

The option remains with the Commonwealth to head down the legislative path if it does become apparent that some generators are unnecessarily dragging their feet on this issue. To not consider this option would be grossly unfair to a company such as Delta which has shown initiative and leadership on this issue.

Importantly for this conference, Generator Efficiency Standards provide opportunities for cogeneration projects to contribute towards reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of energy supplied to the National Electricity Market.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Australian Ecogeneration Association for their contribution in developing these standards.

The Association's input has ensured that the unique features of cogeneration plants are recognised under the standards.

The support of all generators for the Generator Efficiency Standards would be a further signal to the international community of the strength of Australia's commitment to playing its part in this global challenge.

When the international talks on finalising the Kyoto Protocol resume in July in Bonn, Australia will again seek to play a leading role in resolving the outstanding issues.

Australia will be seeking an outcome which provides developed nations with the maximum flexibility to meet their targets. This will ensure that nations have access to low-cost abatement measures and will help ensure the success of the Protocol.

This flexibility must include the development of an effective and efficient international emissions trading scheme.

From Australia's point of view, the final agreement must also include recognition of efforts to revegetate and reafforest cleared land and to slow the rate of landclearing. This would provide Australia with another low-cost abatement option and have complementary benefits in terms of preventing land degradation and salinity and preserving native animal species.

The international community must also agree on a way to meaningfully involve developing nations in the Kyoto Protocol. Simply shifting energy intensive industries from developed nations which are bound by the Protocol to developing nations which are presently not will make no contribution to achieving a better global outcome.

With emissions from developing nations soon expected to overtake those of the developed world, their involvement is essential to the long-term success of our efforts to reverse the human impact on the earth's climate system.

As I mentioned earlier, Australia will go to the Bonn talks with an already impressive array of domestic actions underway to reduce greenhouse emissions.

We have made a bold and determined start in our effort to reach our Kyoto target.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said:

"The first step is what counts. First beginnings are hardest to make, and as small and inconspicuous as they are potent in influence. But once they are made, it is easy to add the rest."

I can only assume Aristotle never had to deal with the Australian Senate.

But Australians should be proud of the steps we have already taken as a nation to combat global warming and be confident that we have laid the foundation for an increased effort in the coming years.

The Australian Ecogeneration Association has played a significant role in these early efforts and I look forward to continuing to work with you and your members to ensure that Australia delivers what it promised.

Commonwealth of Australia