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Senator the Honourable Robert Hill
Federal Minister for the Environment

Bridge to the Future Forum "A Positive View of Reducing Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions."


One of the most important steps in advancing the cause of environmental protection has been dispelling the perception that environmental and economic goals are mutually exclusive.

There are ways to simultaneously advance environmental protection and economic growth.

Of course, not every policy alternative is compatible over the short-term, but there is always a bridge to the future over which society can reach desirable economic and environmental objectives.

In the lead up to Kyoto we are seeing a public debate of growing intensity on climate change policy. However, some of the contributors adopt rather extreme positions at both ends of the spectrum. This has fuelled a dangerous misconception that the world faces a stark choice: either we address Climate Change or we preserve our economies.

Yet, the truth is that we need not choose between the two-what we can do, and what we need to do, is choose both-and follow the policies which will over time allow us to achieve both.

Most, if not everyone here today, believes that over the long-term, we can mitigate Climate Change without sacrificing our economic potential. It is a conviction the government shares, and one which underlies both our international negotiating position, and our domestic response.

An Environmental Problem, A Scientific Reality, A National Responsibility:

Our approach is also founded on an appreciation that the overwhelming balance of scientific opinion confirms the world is facing an environmental threat on a major scale.

Uncertainties remain about the precise impacts of Climate Change. But, as to whether global warming is happening and will worsen, the scientific verdict is well and truly in. As Bruce Babbitt, the closest thing to my "opposite number" in the Clinton Administration, recently put it, this is as "sure as sunrise."

And even though the precise impacts of Climate Change are not entirely clear, they are likely to be significant and wide ranging ---again this is as "sure as sunrise".

As a developed country, it is incumbent upon us to play a constructive role in any global emission reduction effort-although Australia only contributes 1.4% of global emissions. The Government must steer a course which means we are not set a disproportionate task compared to other nations-this is why we have looked so closely at the economic impacts of various policy proposals.

We have been critical of some proposals, but we maintain our belief that there is a course of action available by which the world can prevent the worst impacts of Climate Change, without significantly harming individual national economies.

A Task for All Australians:

As we consider the right course of action for Australia, a number of things are clear.
  1. The Federal Government cannot address Climate Change alone: Our national contribution to global emissions results from the behaviour of thousands of industries, all levels of government, and millions of individual Australians. < strong>This is a task for all Australians.
  2. We must all act now-not because of the Kyoto meeting, but because the cost of acting later will be greater for future generations.
  3. As we invest in the long-term global environmental future, we must steer a course which does not compromise Australia's economic future in the short, medium or long term.

The Opportunities:

Our success depends in part on our ability to harness the significant economic and employment opportunities, and the other environmental benefits, which emission reduction offers in certain sectors of our economy.

As the world moves to reduce greenhouse emissions, we want to see Australia's renewable energy industry expand-both its exports and its domestic market-share. As a lower greenhouse emitter, natural gas will also have unprecedented scope for expansion. Energy efficiency saves money and reducing the emissions intensity of the energy sector will reduce the costs of responding to climate change over the long term.

As the Greenhouse Challenge has demonstrated, we can lift Australia's energy efficiency significantly in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors. In Transport as well, more fuel efficient motor cars and modern traffic management systems have the potential to make a significant positive greenhouse impact, while improving our economic efficiency as well.

In our homes, individual Australians also have the opportunity to play a major role. This is why the government published "Global Warming-Cool It" - a home guide to reducing greenhouse gases and energy costs, and why we have initiated a pilot of the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, to help local government and their communities reduce emissions.

We have a unique capacity among developed nations to sequester greenhouse gases through increased vegetation "sinks." It is the goal of the $350 million Bushcare program to for the first time in Australia's history obtain an annual net increase in vegetation cover. The Plantations 2020 Program, in close cooperation with industry, will treble timber plantations, and reduce our national net emissions total by 27 million tonnes.

The Dangers:

All of this is cause for optimism-but none of this is cause for delusion. We must take account of the realities on the "other side of the ledger."

It is all too easy to advance a grab-bag of spending and regulatory measures and call it a solution, but such contributions are of little use without analysis which shows how they will achieve their stated goals.

Changing the Australian behaviours that create greenhouse emissions cannot be achieved quickly, or without the participation of all sectors of the community. The Government's role will be to create the pre-conditions for change, but it will be up to industry and consumers to respond.

The head of BP, John Brown, put it well when he said recently that:

"the problem with climate change will not be resolved at any single summit meeting. As an issue, climate change is on a par with the development of an open world trading system or a process of disarmament. It will take time."
Our expectations need to be realistic they need to reflect the reality that this is a long-term problem affecting the 21st and 22nd centuries at least and the solution will also be a long-term one.

Reducing emissions substantially cannot be done easily either. Poorly conceived emission reduction has the potential to result in significant economic costs, particularly in high-growth sectors like mining, energy and energy-intense manufacturing.

If we were to stabilise emissions in the energy sector by 2010 without any complimentary obligations on developing states, up to $12 billion worth of planned investments in these sectors could move offshore. The government simply cannot ignore the human cost these losses would impose on Australian families.

The economic costs of emission reduction are not uniform-we must consider not only their disproportionate impact on particular sectors, but also their disproportionate impact on regions.

The challenge is to apply policies that enable our economy to grow and allow us to reduce emissions over the long-term.

In other words we need to minimise the damage, maximise the opportunities, and make an effective contribution to a long-term global solution. It is the aim of our existing programs, and also the aim of the measures the Prime Minister will soon announce as part of the National Greenhouse Strategy.

The Importance of Kyoto:

If a Kyoto Protocol is fair and achievable, we will be able to grow the economy and begin to reverse our emissions trend over time-without sparking unemployment rises and without major investment losses. We are committed to being a party to such a Kyoto Protocol which finally begins that process on a global scale.

Kyoto is an important step in building an environmentally safe "bridge to the future," but many issues will need to be negotiated post-Kyoto: details of developing country commitments; emissions trading, if adopted; joint implementation, to name a few.

However, the bridge we start building at Kyoto must be one all nations can afford to cross. If the toll is too high for individual nations, the global effort will falter and fall. This basic reality is at the heart of our support for differentiation.

Every country must contribute to the global effort, but if they are to preserve their economic futures, every country must be able to take, what is for them, the most appropriate course.

It's ironic that some see an inherently unfair and unachievable "one size fits all" approach as the best environmental solution, when this is just the sort of approach which would throw nations like Australia back into the old "environment or the economy" paradigm.

We would simply not be in a position to reduce emissions to the degree demanded by such simplistic approaches, without incurring major economic impacts.


In conclusion, we will continue to advocate a course of action which contributes to a long-term global environmental solution without sacrificing national economies.

Our contribution has been acknowledged as constructive. Whereas US Undersecretary of State, Tim Wirth, recently said that the United States and the EU had reached an "impasse", he said that "extensive areas of common ground" now exist between the United States and "Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand."

Our contribution has also been responsible-we would have been irresponsible not to focus on economic impacts prior to any decision to commit to proposals.

Yet we acknowledge the problem, the need to act now, and the positive opportunities which this problem presents-opportunities reinforced by this Forum.

Harnessing these opportunities, managing the adverse impacts, and maximising the contribution of all sections of Australian society in the context of a fair global commitment to act, is the only way ahead and one to which we are strongly committed.

Your Forum today can help move that process forward.

Commonwealth of Australia