Feb 14, 2005

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill 2005: First

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill 2005: First Reading


Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.46 p.m.) —It is timely that today, St Valentine’s Day, I introduce the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill 2005, because, as important as human relationships are, so too is our collective relationship with our natural environment. If this bill is passed, the Australian government will be required to ratify the Kyoto protocol and become part of the international solution to climate change.

Climate change is happening right now. Average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees over the past century. The 10 hottest years on record have all been in the last 14 years. Glaciers that have not retreated since the last ice age 12,000 years ago are now doing so. Australians can already see the kinds of impacts that will only get worse as warming advances: the long-term drought in New South Wales, the drop in rainfall in Western Australia, Kakadu being flooded by salt water, and coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. If for no other reason, Australia’s self-interest dictates we immediately ratify the protocol and engage with the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change.

If passed, this bill will require the Australian government to do several things. First, it must ratify the Kyoto protocol within 60 days of the commencement of the act. Second, it must ensure Australia meets its greenhouse emission target set out in the protocol. This is 108 per cent of 1990 levels; only Iceland has a higher target. Third, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage must develop a national climate change action plan setting out our national strategy for meeting our greenhouse emission target. Fourth, the minister must establish an annual greenhouse gas inventory and publish these results. Fifth, the minister must also develop a framework for involvement in the international trading of carbon. This would include emissions trading but also clean development mechanism projects in developing nations.

The Kyoto protocol essentially has a carrot and stick approach. The stick is reaching the target of greenhouse gas emissions; the carrot is gaining access to the economic benefits of the global trading market. Given that Australia is on track to meet our emission target, there is absolutely no downside in Australia ratifying Kyoto, which harnesses the power of the market.

If passed, the bill will enable Australia to enjoy the benefits that flow. The bill sends a clear message to all Australians that we must start working actively on climate change because it is an issue affecting Australia’s future prosperity. It signals to business we are taking a planned approach to shifting Australia towards a modern, clean-energy economy. Just as science and technology have given us tools to measure and understand the dangers of climate change, so too can they help us deal with them. The potential for innovation and therefore business investment and growth is immense. With the right policy framework, it has the potential to unleash new commercial forces and unforeseen economic opportunities. By not ratifying, Australia is giving the world a jump-start in entry to a dynamic driving force of 21st century economies.

Australian companies and our economy will be disadvantaged if we exclude ourselves from carbon markets and the developing renewable energy technology markets. The investment will simply go elsewhere. Our isolation on this issue will become even more apparent after this Wednesday. This agreement was hailed by the Prime Minister back in 1997 as a `win for the environment and a win for Australian jobs’. The PM was right then and he is wrong now. Despite signing the agreement at the time, the Howard government has had a change of heart, claiming it is flawed, even though 140 countries plus the EU have subsequently ratified the protocol. Of industrialised nations only Australia and the United States remain on the outside looking in.

This is illogical. The nature of such agreements is that they are a product of compromise and, like almost every international agreement Australia is part of, we do not say it is perfect. But Kyoto remains the only game in town. Australia must join the coalition of the willing when it comes to tackling climate change. On the one hand, the government says it supports a stricter treaty after 2012 when Kyoto finishes and a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 60 per cent by 2050. However, on the other hand, it suggests Kyoto’s minimal first steps will hurt our economy.

It cannot have it both ways. If it says Kyoto hurts the Australian economy, why is it calling for even stronger emission limits? Labor takes a more sensible, practical approach on this issue. We believe the Kyoto protocol is important for the economy, for jobs and for the environment. Kyoto harnesses the power of the market by putting a price on the use of carbon. This trading market will be worth billions of dollars. We also need to think beyond 2012, but by not ratifying Kyoto we are excluding ourselves from the negotiating table of future agreements. Labor believes Australia is missing out on significant opportunities. We should ratify Kyoto immediately. I present the explanatory memorandum to the House.

Bill read a first time.