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Transcript
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Doorstop
Parliament House
Canberra
5.00 pm Monday, 19 August 2002


E&OE

World Summit on Sustainable Development, Response to 'In Reverse' Report, Kyoto


Dr Kemp:

Well thank you for coming to this doorstop this afternoon. The first that thing I want to do before taking questions from you is to say that today we’re announcing the delegation that will be going to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Australia will be looking for practical outcomes from the World Summit, will be looking for practical partnerships with developing countries to assist them to develop in a sustainable way, so they can avoid in particular the greenhouse intensive developments that the west has gone through over the last half century or so. We will be looking for ways to assist in making agriculture sustainable, we’ll be looking for ways of working in partnership to make sure the worlds fisheries are on a sustainable basis because so many people of course depend on fisheries for the sustenance of their people. So what we’ll be looking for are not so much high sounding declarations, we’ll be looking for practical outcomes that will help people in developing countries improve their standard of living, improve their employment opportunities and to do so in a sustainable way.

Journalist:

Which areas are you going to concentrate on first? Are there any specific countries?

Dr Kemp:

Well, we are looking particularly at countries in our region.

Journalist:

So the Pacific ...?

Dr Kemp:

In the Pacific, we’ve taken a lot of interest in the future of the small island states; we're working very closely with those. We’re working closely with those in relation to issues such as global warming. We’re looking also for sustainable development options for those countries and other countries in the Asia Pacific area. There will be a lot of focus at the World Summit on African development and of course we are interested in all developing countries, but we have a particular interest in our own region because most of the worlds poor people are in our region of the world. And we believe we’ve got a lot to contribute through these practical initiatives.

Journalist:

Minister, are you any closer to releasing Warwick Smiths report on the future of the Australian Greenhouse Office?

Dr Kemp:

Well, we are still considering that. I might just say, in general, it’s a report which gave the Greenhouse Office a very good report card. We’re very proud of the Greenhouse Office, it’s made a significant contribution, a world leading contribution, to Australia’s capacity to deal with greenhouse gases. The National Accounting System that’s been developed by the Greenhouse Office is recognised as a world leading system and that has attracted a lot of international interest.

Journalist:

Will the AGO remain as an independent statutory authority?

Dr Kemp:

Well I won’t be going into the details of what our announcements will be until I release the report.

Journalist:

Are you expecting continued criticism at the Summit over Australia’s refusal to sign Kyoto?

Dr Kemp:

Well, Australia is determined to be a good international citizen. Unfortunately Kyoto doesn’t provide an effective global framework for addressing greenhouse gases. 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are not covered by Kyoto. Because developing countries are not in the treaty, the United States is not going to be a part of Kyoto, Kyoto will make a 1 per cent reduction over the decade in greenhouse gas emissions. So it unfortunately doesn’t provide an effective global framework and because so many countries are not in it, it means that if we were to sign up in our region of the world, we would be saying to industry that we’re prepared to accept binding legal obligations, which don’t apply to their competitors in nearby countries. That could very seriously disadvantage Australian industry, it could drive industry and jobs offshore and we’re not prepared to do that. We believe that we must act in Australia’s national interest, in the interest of Australians, and so we won’t be signing Kyoto, but we will be taking and are taking effective action to reign in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Journalist:

Why not make amendments to make the Protocol more likely to be signed by other countries then? Rather than just writing it off, why not change the Protocol?

Dr Kemp:

Well, that point has now really been passed. There have been a lot discussions, Australia has said at every occasion, that we’re very concerned that there has been no pathway provided for the involvement of developing countries. During the coming decade the greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries will actually exceed those from developed countries and given the region of the world where Australia is, it is very important that we have a global framework, or simply that we act effectively in our own regard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of a global framework we could seriously disadvantage our industry. We could end up driving jobs offshore, industries offshore, where they would be much less greenhouse gas efficient, in many cases than they are in Australia.

Journalist:

Minister, you talk about the legal obligations that Australia might be exposed to, who might enforce those legal obligations and how might they be (inaudible)?

Dr Kemp:

Well, these are legal obligations under international law. What we’ve got to be very careful about is accepting obligations for our industry, which don’t apply to the main competitors of our industries in other countries. Our situation is completely different to that of the European countries. In Europe, all European countries will be part of a treaty. In our part of the world most of the countries in our region will not be within the framework and that would put our industry in a very disadvantageous position. So, we’ve been very clear on this point right from the start. Nobody should be surprised at our attitude. We’ve said it right through the negotiations, that we will be continuing to involve ourselves in international conferences and international discussions to try to get the appropriate global framework in place because it is vitally important that we get the global framework. Just let me make this point, that over this century, the world is going to have to reduce its global greenhouse gas emissions by some 50 to 60 per cent. Now Kyoto is going to contribute 1 per cent of that and that’s probably the best indication that Kyoto is not the quick fix that some people would like to pretend that it is and it shows why it is so important that we get in place a proper global framework.

Journalist:

Who would take Australia to an international court if we didn’t meet the targets as set under the Kyoto Protocol?

Dr Kemp:

Well, the point is that Australia is a country that abides by its legal obligations. I mean we don’t sign treaties unless we intend to abide by them. The treaty imposes ...

Journalist:

(Interrupts)

Dr Kemp:

To ratify the treaty would be to impose on us legal obligations. We want to give a very clear message, to those people who are producing jobs and producing relatively greenhouse efficient products in Australia, that we are not prepared to disadvantage them relative to their main competitors in other countries. But we are prepared to do everything Australia can to make sure that we are a responsible international citizen and that we cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions. And as you know from the figures that I released last week, we are within 3 per cent now of reaching our target, the target we negotiated at Kyoto. 111 per cent is the current projection, that’s 3 per cent more than our target. Now that is a remarkable performance at this stage. I don’t think that there’s any country that is as close to reaching its Kyoto target as Australia. And that’s not an accident, we’ve put a billion dollars into programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and they are going to reduce our emissions by some 60 million tonnes a year. They’re programs like the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, they’re programs like Greenhouse Challenge, which involves 700 major companies, they’re programs like the Greenhouse Friendly Label, which gives companies the opportunity to tell the public and their customers that they are doing something effective on greenhouse and we’re also encouraging families. So, households in Australia make a contribution of about 20 per cent to our total greenhouse emissions. We’re encouraging families to use solar power, to see what they can do to economise on energy and increasingly we’re seeing a good contribution coming from the household sector.

Journalist:

But if you think it’s a good idea to meet the Kyoto targets, then why isn’t it also a good idea to sign the treaty? What’s the difference?

Dr Kemp:

Well, I’ve just made that point. That if we were to sign the treaty, having said all through the negotiations, that we are very concerned there’s no pathway for the involvement of developing countries, and with the United States out, we would give a clear message, that we’re prepared to impose legal obligations on our industries, which other countries are not imposing on their industries in our region and to disadvantage our industries. We have to look beyond Kyoto itself, beyond say 2010, to the next two or three or four decades. This is a long-term issue that faces the world and what is urgent now, is that we give the clearest possible message to the world, both that we are acting responsibly and that the world needs to act, to put in place an effective global framework

Journalist:

Dr Kemp you were saying 111 per cent was 3 per cent more, I think you actually meant 3 per cent less, but on the point of Kyoto ...

Dr Kemp:

No 3 per cent above the target.

Journalist:

Isn’t it below the target?

Dr Kemp:

No, above the target, the target is 108.

Journalist:

Right okay then, it is different to what I heard but anyway, the point is …

Dr Kemp:

Hang on, let’s be quite clear about this so there is no ambiguity, because there are a lot of mistaken comments being made, there is a lot of wild rhetoric flying around at the moment on Australia’s environmental performance. Australia’s Kyoto target is 108 per cent of 1990 emissions and we intend to do what is necessary to attempt to reach that target.

Journalist:

On the point about Kyoto then, are you saying by not signing it, this government is going to be doing more to reduce global warming than if it actually signed up to Kyoto?

Dr Kemp:

Well, I’m saying by not signing it, we’re giving a very clear message to the international community that we’ve been serious right along when we’ve said that there needs to be a pathway for the involvement of developing countries in the global framework because if they are not involved there is no global framework and that’s the great weakness of Kyoto at the present time.

Journalist:

So the Government’s policies will be not as severe as Kyoto policies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Dr Kemp:

Australia’s policies will be effective policies to reach our Kyoto target and they will also be to contribute in a constructive way internationally to seek to get in place the global framework, which presently doesn’t exist.

Journalist:

Minister, have you seen Dr Christoff’s report this morning?

Dr Kemp:

I’ve seen reports of that, yes.

Journalist:

And what’s your response to that?

Dr Kemp:

Well, I totally reject the notion that Australia is not being highly responsible in an environmental sense and through its environmental policies, both internationally and domestically. Australia is in many ways leading the world internationally on important issues. We’ve put in place very effective policies which we’ve just been talking about on global warming, we’ve led the world in areas like the protection of whales and marine biodiversity, we’ve put in place many effective policies internationally to encourage other countries in partnership with us to deal with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, we are acting responsibly in international forums to give leadership. We’ll be taking to the World Summit some very constructive and practical proposals relating to sustainable agriculture, we’ll be seeking to work with other countries in partnership on issues such as energy, illegal logging, the proper management of the worlds oceans resources. Australia has taken a very effective leadership role in environmental matters and we reject any suggestion that Australia is in some way deficient in what it’s doing. This is not to say that we don’t have significant environmental problems. That is why the Government has put in place the $1.4 billion National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality, that is why we put in place the $1.8 billion Natural Heritage Trust, these are world-leading programs. I doubt that any country in the world has put in place the continental framework that we’ve put in place to address, for example salinity and water quality. Australia is right at the forefront, we’ve had big environmental successes; our urban air is cleaner, our houses are more energy efficient, our parks and streetscapes are greatly improved, we’ve greatly cleaned up the fuel that our motor transport uses, we’ve put in place really extraordinarily effective legal frameworks to protect our endangered species; the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is an outstanding piece of environmental legislation which puts Australia in an excellent position to protect vulnerable and endangered species. So, Australia has got a first class environmental record and those who perhaps oppose our economic system, or think that extreme language is the way to conduct the environmental debate, are really quite mistaken. The papers that I’ll be taking to the World Summit, Australia’s National Assessment Report details the positive developments that arise from Australia’s policies, that show the very positive things that Australia is doing to protect not only its own environment, but to contribute as a very responsible international citizen.

Journalist:

Conservation groups have claimed though, accuse you of fiddling the figures and suggest that in the Report, that on every major environmental measure in the last decade since the Rio Earth Summit that, Australia has in fact gone backwards. Which are the true set of figures (inaudible)?

Dr Kemp:

Well, the figures that we’ve announced in relation to global warming for example and Australia’s greenhouse … (inaudible) so Australia on very sound science has made significant progress. I don’t think anyone can deny that the air in our urban centres is now significantly cleaner, that the water in many of our bays and coastal areas is cleaner. That is not to say that there are not environmental issues that need to be addressed. That’s why we are putting into place a national coastal policy, its why we’ve set up the Australian National Oceans Office, we’re doing many things to be positive and constructive. But look, there are some people who rely very heavily on rhetoric and simply can’t accept scientifically validated data. If they don’t like our economic system, if they want Australia to give up some of its sovereignty, well they should come and say so. But, we’re going to work in Australia’s national interest and we’re responding very strongly to what I believe is a very widespread mainstream community concern, that we should continue to act strongly to improve Australia’s environment.

Ends

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