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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
26 November 1998
It is a pleasure to be here today to participate in the launch of the National Greenhouse Strategy. Another step forward in Australia's contribution to addressing this global challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and answering the challenge of climate change.
Can I acknowledge my colleagues sitting on the front bench, and I think in some ways they demonstrate the co-operative approach that's necessary if we're to play our part as a nation in this challenge. Marie Tehan, the Victorian Minister representing the State Ministers, Brendan Smyth, I'll put you down as representing the Territory Ministers as the ACT Minister and Warren Entsch demonstrating that from a Commonwealth prospective and also from the state perspectives that this has to be a whole of Government program if we're going to achieve our goals. And the other critical partner of course, if we're going to be successful, is business and industry and I'm pleased to see so many business and industry representatives here today.
We did, in Kyoto last year, accept for Australia, really quite a demanding target. That doesn't seem to be as yet well appreciated by many. But to actually reduce the rate of growth of emissions in our country, from what was expected to be about 33% between 1990 and 2010 down to 8%, really is a dramatic change and calls for a very different way of doing business for us as individuals, for our communities, for our businesses, and for governments. And without those dramatic changes in the way in which we behave, we simply won't achieve that goal. But of course we were part in Kyoto of the first agreement intended to be legally binding to actually restrict the rate of emissions. And the target we accepted as industrialised countries of 5% off the 1990 level by 2010, is really quite extraordinary - huge tonnage. And whilst there are many out there who say that it's not good enough, and there is no doubt that it won't be good enough in the sense that in itself it won't solve the problem of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a safe level, it is a very significant start and it has to be made to work. It's one thing committing to a target - it's another thing even saying its going to be legally binding. It's another thing actually implementing the changes, accepting and implementing the changes to achieve that goal. And if we do that we're on the track to a better global outcome, and we've played a significant part.
One year on, at the meeting we've just completed in Beunos Aires, we had the challenge of trying to drive the Kyoto protocol further forward. And what we've done is that we've accepted that, all of the flexibility mechanisms, joint implementation, emissions trading, the clean development mechanism, the rules under which they are to operate, which are designed to assist the developed world in meeting its commitment, must be settled within the next two years. Which sounds in some ways to me quite a long way away, but when anybody and many of you I know are wrestling with the concept of a global system of emissions trading, and you don't have to wrestle with that for long to understand that there's a good two years of solid work in wrestling with the complexities of that challenge. But again it's worthwhile because of what it means is that you're achieving the goal at the lowest cost, which is not only sound economics, but it also means that for any sum of dollars you're going to get the maximum environmental benefit. So you save more tonnes for each specified sum of money that you're putting in. So it's worthwhile getting the flexibility mechanisms settled.
There were in Argentina some other positive developments. The first of which was that we are now seeing some developing countries talking about voluntary targets. For Kyoto to work, the developing world, particularly the large emitters, have to come on board. We accept the responsibility first for the developed world, whose industry has resulted in most of the accumulated greenhouse gases. But the developed world are not going to solve the global problem because emissions from the developed world is actually about to be overtaken by emissions from the developing world. That's the reality.
The practical issues is also that unless the developing countries come on board, the United States won't ratify and Kyoto will never come in to effect. But countries such as Argentina and Kazakhstan publicly said that they're prepared to take voluntary commitments and behind the scenes a number of other countries said that they were prepared to move down this path as well which is very positive progress, an element of progress.
The challenge now is to set the rules under which they can do that and have those rules accepted by all parties - which is not going to be easy. But one thing that does comfort me is that they're going to do it through the principle of differentiation which was Australia's major contribution to the Kyoto protocol process and really was the key to ensuring the success of Kyoto. So the principle that we put forward that the target for a state should reflect the economic realities within that state. Its state of development, its cost of abatement and the like is now accepted as critical to the whole global answer to the climate change problem and I think that that's something of which Australian negotiators should be very proud.
The other positive thing of course was the United States signed to the protocol to a background where you can see change occurring within the Congress. There is now a lobby within the congress for ratification. In fact there's been a Bill on trading introduced into the US Congress and there is now a growing business lobby within the United States which recognises the realities and also sees the opportunities in getting in early that is now working positively within the administration for the settling of rules that will enable trading to go ahead and enable the US to ultimately ratify, and the Kyoto Protocol become law.
So that's the international framework. The other side of the ledger is of course how do we meet the commitment that we've made and make our contribution. We do that, as I said, through a cooperative endeavour of all the key stake holders and critical to that has to be the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. We're pleased that we took the lead last November when the Prime Minister announced that about $180 million package of initiatives that the Commonwealth would take which covered a whole range of sectors - really covered all of the sectors, set targets within the sectors, estimated the cost of a Commonwealth contribution to achieve those goals and which are now being implemented through the leadership of the Australian Greenhouse Office. It was also a proud moment in Beunos Aires to be able to stand there and say that Australia has now the, is the first country in the world to establish a national greenhouse office of the nature that we have with a Commonwealth. In our case a Commonwealth responsibility to ensure the implementation of the program and to have a stand there of the Australian Greenhouse Office showing other countries examples of what we are doing to meet out commitment was really a good feeling for someone, who I have to say, thought under a touch of pressure in Kyoto in only twelve months to have gone from that stage on the defensive to a stage where we can stand proud in what we are doing in making our commitment and achieving our goals was a great step forward in just a very short period of time.
So the Commonwealth has provided that lead but of course so many of the challenges that we face whether it's in relation to building codes or motor vehicle emissions or power station emission standards, or purchase or renewables, so much of it needs to be under our federal structure needs to be implemented through the states. So it will only work if in fact we have a cooperative arrangement with the states. The vehicle for implementing that cooperative arrangement has been negotiated. The framework for implementing it has now been negotiated in the form of a new national greenhouse strategy. Under the Strategy, which is a framework, we now must develop the action plans which will cover the key areas. A partnership for greenhouse action which I've been talking about the partnership between governments; industry and the community, the efficient and sustainable energy use and supply; efficient transport and sustainable urban policy absolutely critical; greenhouse sinks and sustainable land management also vitally important to Australia - more so for Australia than any other party to the convention; and greenhouse best practice as it relates to industrial procedures and waste management. We now must negotiate the action plans again in partnership with the states to implement the goals that we have set out in each of these five different categories.
So in marking today the next step on this long and difficult road, I want to acknowledge what you and the greenhouse office have done. I want to thank the principle negotiators who've negotiated this agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. It's been achieved in a cooperative spirit. These negotiations are never easy are they, but with the right attitude you can get to a good outcome. I want to thank Australian business who's also shown a lead through the voluntary greenhouse challenge program. It's a program that we also proudly put to the rest of the world as a precedent. You are setting an example which is a good step forward. I want to congratulate those who've been engaged in the Cities for Climate Change program. Again there are more cities in Australia signing up to the local government contribution to addressing the greenhouse challenge then any other country in the world. So across the board I'm pleased to say that we're now moving positively and we're moving forward and I'm particularly pleased that today, at this small ceremony, we're able to mark this next step forward through the cooperative national greenhouse strategy between both the Commonwealth and State Governments and I now look forward to the early negotiation of the action plans and their prompt implementation thereafter.