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Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Discussion about global climate change

ELEANOR HALL: The news that Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide sweltered through their hottest September on record will no doubt add further to concerns about global climate change.

Yesterday's Lowy Institute poll found the issue of global warming was a major concern for the majority of Australians who saw it as a bigger priority for the country than terrorism. But the federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, says the Lowy Institute survey is not a wake-up call for the federal government but rather reinforces the government's $2 billion commitment to address climate change. I spoke to Ian Campbell a short time ago.

So Minister, 87 per cent of Australians in a Lowy Institute survey put improving the global environment above terrorism as our most important foreign policy goal. Will you be using these results to push the issue of climate change further up the foreign policy agenda of your government?

IAN CAMPBELL: Look, I am not surprised by the figures and I think Australians can be reassured that at the highest levels of government, with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they are both deeply committed to getting the international settings for climate change policy right.

The best demonstration of that is the leadership that both Mr Howard and Mr Downer took in pulling together the most substantial partnership on climate change with the Asia Pacific Partnership; that pulls together China, America, Korea, Japan and India to address climate change in a practical way.

ELEANOR HALL: An interesting point from the Lowy report was that two-thirds of respondents said they want the government to take action to address global warming even if that involves significant economic costs. Now, that's something that you've always put as a caveat on Australia's environment policy, isn't it-that it should not involve significant economic costs. So are you out of step with the majority of Australians?

IAN CAMPBELL: No, I think what we all need to understand is that to address climate change you are going to need to invest in excess of $17 trillion globally to transform entirely how we produce energy and how we use it. We need a massive investment, a step change, in how we produce energy. We are going to have to use a lot more renewables. We are going to have to make sure that carbon from burning fossil fuels is not allowed to [inaudible] anymore. We are going to have to transform our transportation systems. All of that requires massive investment so measures that unnecessarily harm economic growth will in fact harm our response to climate change. You have to find policies that transform how we create and use energy but also maintain economic growth. The two are essential; you can't have one without the other. You can't harm economic growth or you'll harm the world's capacity to address it. But I am confident you can do both.

ELEANOR HALL: But in this survey, the Australian public is saying-two-thirds of respondents are saying-they are prepared to have urgent action taken even if it does involve significant economic costs.

IAN CAMPBELL: Well, that's good to know. The trouble is if you go down that policy path you are going to actually harm the world's capacity to address climate change. You are going to need multitrillion dollar investments. Basically every power station in the world has to be changed, every transportation system in the world has to be changed, every new power facility we put in the developing world needs to be changed so that requires multitrillion dollar investments, that requires us to have a world economy that is robust and strong and growing.

ELEANOR HALL: Now, you've been involved in discussions at UN convention conferences even though you've made it clear that Australia won't sign on to the Kyoto Protocol. But you've made the point yourself that this is not enough; these conventions and discussions are not enough. If the Australian public is making it clear it is willing to cop the economic costs, would you consider a carbon tax, for example?

IAN CAMPBELL: Well, again, a carbon tax that smothers the economy, which reduces the ... new taxes like that will in fact have an economic impact. What we are doing at the UN is ... I mean, Australia is actually chairing the major dialogue that is trying to build a post-Kyoto arrangement that is effective. The trouble with Kyoto is that it only covers roughly a third of the world's emissions and an effective arrangement must cover 100 per cent.

Australia in fact leads the world in trying to get to a new agreement that will basically come after the Kyoto Protocol finishes, which is really only at the end of [inaudible] 2008, 2012, that brings together the world on something that is effective. And Australia actually chairs the United Nations Commission dialogue that is seeking to do that. So we are taking the leadership role. I think the Lowy Institute survey in fact in many respects reinforces what the Australian government is doing.

ELEANOR HALL: So although this survey does give you the ammunition to push climate change further up the foreign policy agenda, you're saying that there is nothing more really that we could or should be doing?

IAN CAMPBELL: I am certainly not saying that. I am absolutely convinced that both in Australia and around the world we definitely need to do a lot more. This is an incredibly serious challenge.

What I have to do in Australia is to demonstrate that the $2 billion we've already committed is going to be spent effectively. When those programs are demonstrated to be effective, I will be very happy to go back to Cabinet and ask for more. We're at the moment spending hundreds of millions of dollars on technologies being deployed across Australia, which are seen internationally as world-leading programs. I mean, no-one has attempted a solar cities program where you roll out solar energy across entire suburbs. This is world-leading stuff. I will go back to Cabinet, when I can demonstrate these programs work, and ask for more.

The Prime Minister has shown his capacity to commit to this with only last month extending the Remote Renewable Power Generation Program. There's $123 million extra, just last month, to basically replace diesel generation of power, right around the remote areas of Australia, with solar and wind. So he is committed to this as much as I am. He will give me the money but I won't dare ask for it until the $2 billion I have already got is spent effectively.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, speaking to us earlier today.

Commonwealth of Australia