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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

ADDRESS TO THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS ASSOCIATION


Sydney
28 November 1997

Introduction:

Their cultural and ancient capital, Kyoto, holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people. The serenity of Kyoto will provide an interesting backdrop to debate a vitally important contemporary issue.

Like my counterparts from the more than 150 nations participating in the conference, I hope we remember Kyoto as also the place where we reached an effective Climate Change agreement, of which my country was able to be part.

Australia's desire to be part of an effective agreement was demonstrated in Parliament last week when the Prime Minister unveiled a package of greenhouse response measures far in excess of anything previously undertaken by any Australian government.

Like the countries whose news many of you write, Australia has long-accepted that the impact of human activity on the climate is a scientific reality with significant implications.

We continue to play an important role in the global greenhouse science effort, the technical side of inventory development, and in the development of a wide range of emission reducing technologies.

But while these activities complement our international negotiation effort leading up to Kyoto -- as do the measures announced by the Prime Minister -- they are not in any way conditional on the Kyoto outcome.

We accept that our obligation to implement an effective greenhouse response is not conditional upon what the rest of the world decides in a couple of weeks' time.

We do it because we believe it's the right thing to do in terms of our domestic policy.

The Kyoto Conference:

As for the Kyoto meeting, we remain cautiously optimistic that agreement can be reached.

We're heartened by a number of recent developments -- the growing acceptance that national differences must be a part of any solution, and the increased focus on the importance of including all greenhouse gases, sectors and sinks in any agreement.

Yet, being realistic, there are still major obstacles, and a lot of distance between the major players on a number of key issues.

So, it will be essential for all participants to take a positive approach to Kyoto and a genuine willingness to accommodate other views. This is the only way a successful outcome will be achieved.

We approach the negotiations positively with a desire to reach agreement. Whether we can be party to any protocol emerging from Kyoto will hinge on 4 crucial issues: Achievability, Fairness, Coverage, and Environmental Effectiveness.

In that order, I want to take this opportunity to expand on these "bottom-line" principles for Australia:

1. Achievability:

No Kyoto outcome will be successful unless it is also achievable. Since 1992, when the Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, almost all countries, Australia among them, have failed to meet the target of emissions stabilisation by 2000.

Granted, some of that is a failure to match words with action, but it's now almost universally accepted that the target itself was fatally flawed and unrealistic -- primarily because it took no account of national circumstances -- what each country could realistically expect to achieve by 2000.

The result has been a lot of pointing the political fingers of blame, and a continued spiralling global increase in emissions.

The clear lesson of the 1990s is that an achievable plan cannot be a rigid "one-size-fits-all" obligation on all nations -- and it is disappointing that some have failed to learn.

If we fail to appreciate this lesson, and apply it as part of a solution in Kyoto, we will doom ourselves to repeat history.

2. Fairness:

Just as any agreement in Kyoto must be achievable for all parties, it must also be fair -- requiring "equivalence of effort" from each country.

It would be inherently unfair to apply a flat rate target to all Annex 1 nations, without making any provisions to accommodate national differences. Abatement costs vary substantially between states.

The Australian government cannot commit to a target which makes no allowance for the circumstances we face, which are atypical amongst developed nations, and which make our emissions reduction task more difficult:

That is --

You simply cannot have a fair agreement if you ignore such a disparity between the circumstances facing each country in this negotiation.

3. Coverage:

Aside from making global environmental sense to address all factors contributing to the Climate Change threat, "coverage" is another issue which Australia sees as being a core element of any successful Kyoto resolution.

Without the inclusion of all gases, sectors and sinks, Australia would be placed at a significant disadvantage relative to most other developed nations.

Our task is already difficult enough because of the factors I have already described -- but to then refuse to give us credit for emissions sequestration through revegetation, where the abatement costs are lower, would be unfair.

Similarly, to not allow us the benefit of an improved outcome from land-use change, when the land-use contribution to our 1990 emissions figure is 24%, would be unreasonable.

But perhaps more important, increasing forest cover and slowing land-clearing contributes to a better net figure and, therefore, a better global environmental outcome.

Similarly, omitting some gases does not give a valid environmental picture.

Interestingly, a senior US State Department Official noted that when applying an all-gases approach to the EU proposal:

"...their reduction would be only minus four percent as opposed to 15 percent because they are not getting to addressing a lot of greenhouse gases that are important in the overall equation."
And as Tim Wirth pointed out earlier this month,
"...the Japanese only have three gases (out of six) in the baselines. If the Japanese included all six gases in the baseline, that costs them three to five percentage points...So they are no longer at `minus five.' They move down closer to zero."

4. Environmental Effectiveness:

The final core element of any good Kyoto agreement will be environmental effectiveness.

We must not lose sight of why we are seeking an agreement in the first place -- to start on a global reduction of greenhouse emissions in order to safeguard the future of the world's climate against adverse consequences which might flow from an ever greater accumulation of greenhouse gases.

As a group of Annex 1 nations, we must collectively start to reverse our greenhouse emissions.

And in doing so, we need to develop means of ensuring that the progress we make is not lost through the rate of growth in developing country emissions.

This is not to say that developing nations need to sign on to the same goals as Annex 1 nations -- but if the global effort is to be environmentally effective, we must find ways to commit developing countries.

Beyond Kyoto:

I think it's essential also that we see the Kyoto meeting in context -- as the perception which has gained currency in the media is that Kyoto is the "be-all-and-end-all." It is not, and representing the conference in such a way really downplays the enormity of the Climate Change issue.

We are dealing with an environmental challenge, the implications of which will be manifested over the course of the next century and beyond -- a challenge that will require mitigation measures over the same long-term from governments the world over.

And we're dealing with an issue which has already been the subject of years of negotiation, and will continue to be, as governments incorporate improvements in greenhouse science, and refine their emission mitigation efforts.

This is not to say Kyoto is not an important step along the way -- it is -- but it is part of a much longer journey than most people have been led to believe.

Post Kyoto, some of the most difficult issues will also remain for negotiation.

Most crucial will be the strengthening of developing country commitments, but we will have to consider other issues, such as the application of emissions trading, should it be part of the agreed solution.

In the time we have, and given the range of difficult issues still unresolved, it is not realistic to expect the Kyoto conference to finalise every detail, but we must utilise the political momentum and commitment generated by these negotiations to try to ensure that, at the very least, Kyoto lays the foundations for an effective global greenhouse response into the next century.

Domestic Action:

As I mentioned earlier, the foundations for an effective domestic greenhouse response were laid down last week by the Prime Minister, who committed this country to its largest and most far-reaching package of measures ever to address Climate Change -- and one which goes well beyond what is contemplated by many other countries at this time.

These initiatives include:

These measures will collectively cut emissions by 39 million tonnes by 2010, which is a reduction of more than a third from previous projections, and a per capita fall of 4% relative to 1990.

In addition to this, other proven opportunities will emerge in the future which will even further enhance our ability to reduce emissions.

For example, it has been suggested that using hot dry rock (HDR) thermal technology, we may at some point be able to extract enough energy from the Cooper Basin to supply all of Australia's needs for 100 years, and enough from the Hunter Valley to supply New South Wales' electricity for 50 years.

Other emissions-free renewables, such as tidal power, also present exciting possibilities, which so long as we are cognisant of other environmental factors, may play a major role in our future national emissions reduction strategy.

So, while we have taken some major steps, we fully expect there to be more opportunities in future, and we will be actively seeking out such opportunities.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, we are heartened by the progress we have made in seeking a recognition of different national circumstances and the desirability of an equivalence of effort.

We further believe that the credibility of our case has been significantly enhanced by the new domestic commitments we have made.

We do, however, recognise that our circumstances are different from other negotiating parties, and as each state negotiates from the perspective of its national interests, it's difficult to persuade all to accept those circumstances unique to us.

Nevertheless, there is considerable goodwill in the negotiations, and a determination to achieve a good outcome.

Thus, we remain cautiously optimistic.

Certainly we will make every effort to achieve global greenhouse benefits in which Australia carries its fair share of the load.

Commonwealth of Australia