British Chief Scientist calls on Australia to ratify Kyoto
MEDIA RELEASE – ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
14 Ocotber 2005
Last night on ABC’s Lateline program, Britain’s Chief Scientist Sir David King made a powerful case for Australia ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and joining the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change. (Transcript Below).
Sir David King made a compelling argument that by ratifying Kyoto Australia could adapt more quickly to protect itself against the risks of climate change and avoid the escalating costs of adapting our economy at a later time.
Sir David King outlined the measures the 25 European Union countries and Russia, Japan and Canada are undertaking to help adapt their economies – most notably the development of successful emissions trading systems.
Sir David King stated: There’s no question the British Government would like to see Australia and the United States move with us in terms of Kyoto, but let me tell you, I think Kyoto is only a first step and Prime Minister Blair has said exactly the same thing. We believe Kyoto is the first step. It’s a necessary step. But we’re in favour of Kyoto, plus we want to go beyond Kyoto. Yes, the answer to your question is I have been here to attempt to show the argument in favour of the Kyoto Protocol
Sir David King welcomed the Asia Pacific Climate Pact, but stated Britain and Japan do not regard it as an alternative to Kyoto because “it doesn’t set the targets that are required to get, for example, the private sector on board as we move forward in time”.
“Acknowledging the change required in emissions behaviour we believe means you have to set a cap, you have to set targets for emission reduction and we think that emissions trading is a crucial part of that”.
In respect of arguments that ratifying Kyoto harms the economy, Sir David King stated the British economy since 1990 has increased by about 38% in GDP terms and over the same period, we have reduced our basket of greenhouse gas emissions by 12%. … investment in alternative energy sources is likely to boost economies, rather than to cause damage through loss of existing assets.
Sir David King also stated “I am confident after my discussions with ministers that there is not a single view expressed in the Australian Cabinet. And that in itself is, of course, interesting.”
Sir David King delivered the Magna Carta Lecture in Parliament House on Wednesday.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT LOCATION: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2005/s1481937.htm
King urges Govt to sign Kyoto Protocol Reporter: Tony Jones
TONY JONES: The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, relies heavily on his chief scientific adviser and, as a result, Sir David King is not afraid to speak his mind. His warnings about global warming and the dangers of climate change have included public criticism of the US administration, which he claims is failing to play its part in "the most serious problem faced by the world". At the end of next month, the countries who’ve signed the Kyoto Protocol will meet in a major UN climate change conference in Montreal to plan the next steps to tackle global warming. Because of their long-standing opposition to Kyoto, Australia and the United States won’t be there. Now Tony Blair has sent his scientific emissary on a diplomatic mission to Canberra to convince the Government to reconsider. I spoke to him in our Parliament House studios earlier this evening. Sir David King, thanks for joining us.
SIR DAVID KING, BRITISH GOVERNMENT CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER: My pleasure.
TONY JONES: Now, last year you made a very dramatic statement – you said that climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism. Well, since then, your capital city of London was hit by two sets of bombers. New laws are being enacted in Britain and across the world. Security is a huge issue, still, for Western governments and Britain is still in an uproar. Do you want to reassess that statement?
SIR DAVID KING: No. I might correct your statement that Britain is still in an uproar. I don’t believe that is a fair statement in terms of our rather responsible response to that dreadful bombing. But let me just explain that, as chief scientific adviser, I am very heavily involved – and have been since 9/11 – in advising the Government on how to maintain our defences against terrorist attacks. So I’m not coming at this as somebody simply looking at climate change. I see the whole picture in the UK scene and on the world scene. I have no reason at all to change the view that I expressed, which was expressed precisely to draw attention to the importance of the climate change problem as we go through the current century. If you like, one of the aspects that is easily demonstrable is that political attention is easily focussed on the issues around terrorism. It is much more difficult to get political attention focussed on a long-range issue such as climate change, and that is precisely one of the problems that I was drawing attention to.
TONY JONES: Does Tony Blair agree with you? I mean, does he grow it’s a worse threat to the world than terrorism?
SIR DAVID KING: Tony Blair has been asked in Parliament and in other places whether or not he agrees with his own chief scientific adviser, and he has made it very clear that for the 21st century, tackling global warming is perhaps the biggest challenge we face. Now, if you want to know where he stands, he put climate change alongside African development as the two most important issues he wanted to raise during his G8 presidency. So the answer is, yes, Tony Blair does agree with his chief scientific adviser on this.
TONY JONES: Alright. Looking across the world, it would be fair to say that few governments regard climate change as seriously as you do and, evidently, the British Government does. Is that a fair assessment?
SIR DAVID KING: I’m not sure that that is a fair assessment. It is true that the British Government has taken a leadership position in terms of dealing with climate change. We were the first government to declare that we would go well beyond Kyoto by reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide by 50 per cent by 2050. But let me be absolutely clear – the decision to do that is because Britain wanted to take a leadership role in bringing other countries on board, a global mechanism for dealing with climate change.
TONY JONES: Now a small group – admittedly small group of scientific sceptics have for years have cast so much doubt on the theory of climate change that they’ve made it very hard for politicians to get behind this as strenuously as you want them to. How seriously have they damaged your case, the sceptics?
SIR DAVID KING: Well, let me first of all deal with sceptics in three forms, because they do come in different forms. First of all, armchair critics who actually know very little about the state of climate change science. Secondly, lobbyists who are paid by various organisations to put across these views. I rank amongst lobbyists those people who will still argue that cigarette smoking and cancer are not related. So these are people who will take any case on board. And, thirdly, serious scientists who challenge the details of the scientific consensus. Now, in that third category, I can honestly only think of two scientists to put, so we are really dealing with a significant group of science fiction authors on the one hand, and lobbyists on the other, who have made quite an impression in some countries. The bottom line is that when you deal with science, you are dealing with a group of scientists – and in this field, no less than about 2,000 – who, like other scientists, challenge each other. Scientists have egos. They each want to prove that they’re the only one who’s right. And when that challenging process continues for a while, a consensus emerges. And around the science of climate change, let me say at once – we have global warming. Consensus – all agreed. We’ve got a 0.7 degree centigrade temperature rise over the last 50 years. We have carbon dioxide emissions raising the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We know that carbon dioxide is the driver for change in our climate because we know that it is a greenhouse gas. The models that predicted what would happen and is currently happening were first published in 1896. I don’t know of anyone who has pulled apart the physics behind our understanding of the greenhouse gas effect.
TONY JONES: Right.
SIR DAVID KING: So I think the science is pretty secure. There’s a big debate amongst the scientists as to what the impact of the changes in carbon dioxide levels that are currently occurring will be for societies around the world. That’s the proper area of concern.
TONY JONES: Alright. One of those countries that has taken the sceptics quite seriously, or one of the governments, has been the Government of the United States, and the lobbyists as well, they do appear to be changing – or, President Bush appears to be changing somewhat his position now. But of course, both the United States and Australia have refused to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that they would destroy the economies, the respective economies of both of those countries, effectively. What do you say to that argument?
SIR DAVID KING: Well, I think first of all I would respond by pointing out that the British economy since 1990 has increased by about 38 per cent in GDP terms and over the same period, we have reduced our basket of greenhouse gas emissions by 12 per cent. I would also point out that the US economy, along with the UK economy, has grown by 300 per cent since 1950. And over that 300 per cent growth in GDP period, the US emissions of carbon dioxide only increased by about 15-20 per cent. It has already been a decoupling of GDP growth and emissions. There are arguments from good economists on either side of this coin. But I do believe that investment in alternative energy sources is likely to boost economies, rather than to cause damage through loss of existing assets. But of course, the real argument hinges around the cost of adaptation – against the changes that are already occurring around countries in the world, including Australia – the costs of adaptation in order to protect our societies against the risks of climate change. And as we move forward in time, those costs are going to become very severe. That is what is emerging again as a consensus.
TONY JONES: Has Tony Blair sent you here on a mission, to try and make this case to the Australian Government? Because only yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted that signing up to Kyoto would be selling out the working men and women in the resource sector of Australia. So if you have that mission, you’ve got a pretty tough job ahead of you.
SIR DAVID KING: There’s no question the British Government would like to see Australia and the United States move with us in terms of Kyoto, but let me tell you, I think Kyoto is only a first step and Prime Minister Blair has said exactly the same thing. We believe Kyoto is the first step. It’s a necessary step. But we’re in favour of Kyoto, plus we want to go beyond Kyoto. Yes, the answer to your question is I have been here to attempt to show the argument in favour of the Kyoto Protocol.
TONY JONES: And have you been able to speak to Government ministers and put that argument, or do you intend to speak to Government ministers?
SIR DAVID KING: I have been seeing Government ministers and I have put that argument, and the Minister for the Environment clearly understands the argument very well.
TONY JONES: Do you get any sense at all, in putting that argument, that the Australian Government may be prepared to shift at all to ‘Kyoto Plus’, as you put it?
SIR DAVID KING: Um, I believe that, in time, all governments are going to understand the arguments as the costs of adaptation against climate change come through, country by country. But I can’t predict – I’m sure you would be a better person to predict – how the Australian Government will react to this. If we do look at this situation – let me just say, because it seemed you’re giving a view that perhaps not many countries are tied to Kyoto. We have European Union agreement amongst 25 countries on a trading process in carbon dioxide emissions, so we’ve already got a cap and trade emissions process running. London is the financial centre for that process. It’s running exceptionally well. The trade price of carbon dioxide went up from 8 euros per tonne to 23 euros per tonne today from January to the present time. So that’s going very well.
TONY JONES: Alright.
SIR DAVID KING: And as we move forward in time, Japan, Canada and Russia all come on board the Kyoto trading process.
TONY JONES: But you’d be well aware that Australia is now busily engaged along with the United States, Japan, China and India in developing its own sort of user-friendly alternative to Kyoto which they call ‘The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate’. Now, does Britain regard that as a challenge to Kyoto?
SIR DAVID KING: Not at all, because I don’t think Britain regards it as an alternative and nor does Japan. You mentioned Japan as one of the signatories to the Asia-Pacific agreement and of course, they are a signatory to the Kyoto process. What that agreement is, as far as I understand it, is an agreement on technology and technology transfer. Now of course, climate change has two sides to the coin. One side of the coin is acknowledging the change. The other side of the coin is technology. Acknowledging the change required in emissions behaviour we believe means you have to set a cap, you have to set targets for emission reduction and we think that emissions trading is a crucial part of that. But we believe as well that it’s going to be new science and technology that will bring us forward out of the current situation. So on the one hand, yes, we totally welcome the Asia-Pacific agreement because it’s an acknowledgement that climate change is a major issue that we all need to tackle. But we simply feel that it doesn’t set the targets that are required to get, for example, the private sector on board as we move forward in time.
TONY JONES: OK. As a scientist, how do you regard the new technologies that Australia and the US, for example, is pouring huge amounts of money into, such as cleaner coal power stations and carbon sequestration, pumping carbon dioxide underground?
SIR DAVID KING: And in Britain this is happening as well, but interestingly we’re not having to use government money for that. BP and Scottish Power are investigating through active capture and storage in oil wells that are drying up…
TONY JONES: But do you think it can work? Do you think it can work on a broad scale to mitigate against the use of coal-burning power stations?
SIR DAVID KING: I think, in the first case, we need to use every avenue forward for containment of carbon dioxide emissions. So it’s absolutely right that we look at carbon capture and storage, but I don’t think that the technology – in fact, I’m sure the technology is not yet proven and so I would just fear that it is used as a kind of fig leaf to continue with a ‘business as usual’ scenario in the meantime, and so raising carbon dioxide levels still further as we build new coal-fired power stations which will have a lifetime of perhaps 40 years into the future. So I think one should just invest in the research but maintain an open mind as to whether or not it’s going to play through into reality.
TONY JONES: A final quick question – do you have any confidence at all after your meetings with Australian Government ministers that you might be able to win over Australia onto your side of the argument?
SIR DAVID KING: I am confident after my discussions with ministers that there is not a single view expressed in the Australian Cabinet. And that in itself is, of course, interesting.
TONY JONES: The Prime Minister will be interested to hear that, I’m sure!
SIR DAVID KING: (Laughs) I’m sure he’s aware of it.
TONY JONES: Sir David King, we’ll have to leave it there. We thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SIR DAVID KING: Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.