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Senator the Honourable Robert Hill
Federal Minister for the Environment
Address to the
National Convention Centre
Thursday, 21st August -- 12.30pm
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:
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.