Feb 16, 2005

Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition: Kyoto Protocol

Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition: Matters of Public Importance: Kyoto
Protocol


16 February 2005


Mr BEAZLEY (Brand—Leader of the Opposition) (3.00 p.m.)—I thank the House.
Today, across the world, parliaments and people are observing the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change: the Kyoto protocol. It is a day of great
historical significance. The threat of global warming is one of the greatest
challenges that the world community now faces. It is complex, demanding and
urgent. Just as also are the other great challenges of our time: global
terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the crisis of
extreme poverty that afflicts one billion people.

At the outset of this debate, in the context of what the Prime Minister had
to say, I want to say this: it is in Australia’s interests to sign and ratify
this protocol. Not a single economic benefit flows from the failure to do so. As
the government itself has said, it will meet the Kyoto targets which it
negotiated in 1997, so the government cannot argue that the Kyoto targets
detract from this country’s economic potential. The second thing is this, and it
is more vital: if you are a ratifier and a participant in this treaty, you sit
at the table that determines the next phase from 2012 onwards; if you do not,
you are liable to all sorts of economic action by those countries who are
participants in it—and we could potentially have a very great deal to lose were
those circumstances to arise. Another thing is that incorporated within this
regime is a carbon trading arrangement which, as a major exporter of energy, we
have substantial opportunities to participate in, yet we have been taken out of
that. The Sydney Futures Exchange anticipated commonsense from this government
and set up a capacity to trade in those carbon futures, but this government has
let this element of the capitalist system monumentally down.

No nation can solve these global warming problems alone. They require an
immense effort of technology, diplomacy and leadership for our world to tackle
them effectively. I am no master of scientific knowledge on climate
change—unlike the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources—but, like many in
the Australian community, my sense of concern has deepened over several years as
the scientific evidence has mounted. The picture is bleak; the evidence is
compelling. I do not need to dwell on that—we are reading about it every day in
our newspapers. I think, too, that we understand the consequences will be
severe. The frequency of droughts and floods will increase. Water resources will
become more scarce. Vast tracts of agricultural land will become arid. Many
plant and animal species will face extinction. Australia will face a hotter and
drier climate. The severe bushfires that have menaced us in recent years will
intensify. Water shortages will become more frequent. Some of Australia’s most
spectacular natural heritage, like the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu’s wetlands and
the alpine regions of south-eastern Australia, will be severely damaged.
Already, many of our folk can see these trends. It is an issue that is raised
with me constantly as I go out and address groups and meet people in the
community. The government are defying the commonsense and the observations
already of the Australian people who put them where they are. Despite this
threat, when the Kyoto protocol comes into effect today with the names of 140
countries on that list, we are not there.

Making sense of this government’s position on Kyoto, as I said, is not easy.
When the Kyoto protocol was negotiated in December 1997, the Prime Minister
described the Kyoto outcome as an `absolutely stunning diplomatic success’,
saying that it would:

… make a massive contribution to the world environmental effort to cut
greenhouse gas emissions but also to protect Australian jobs … a win for the
environment and a win for Australian jobs.

The Prime Minister, as we all know, is given to hyperbole when it comes to
describing his achievements, but I have rarely heard him wax so eloquent in his
own praise and I have never heard him before, having waxed so eloquent, spurn
the product of his announcement. His position is now different. He says that
Australia just cannot afford it, that it would cost us too much, that it is not
in our best interests. Meanwhile, his minister for the environment has another
message: that Kyoto, with its one per cent reduction in emissions, does not go
far enough. As he said on 23 October 2004:

… until the protocol reduced emissions by 60 per cent, Australia would not
accept it. “That would be accepting the argument that you sign on to something
that is half-hearted and not likely to deliver a good result.

In other words, the Prime Minister, if he is honest—according to his
environment minister—would be standing up here saying, `I’ll not sign this until
there is a 60 per cent reduction.’ I tell you what: there would be a few
comments from Australian industry then! His industry minister is not even sure
that there is any problem with global warming. He is quoted in the Sydney
Morning Heraldtoday saying:

Whether or not those emissions are causing climate change, I don’t know. If
you go back across history, millions of years, carbon dioxide levels go up and
down, and global warming comes and goes. I mean, the Earth is a lot warmer than
it was when the glaciers formed.

But the government’s position gets still more confused. The Prime Minister
also says that though we oppose Kyoto and will not ratify it, yet we will reach
our Kyoto targets anyhow—but, no, we still will not sign it. This is the
absurdity, the internal contradiction, the sheer loopiness of this government’s
position on global warming. On the one hand, the government is indignant that
Australia cannot bear the cost of signing the Kyoto protocol but, on the other
hand, it tells us Australia is on track and will reach its Kyoto targets.

It seems the government is saying that Australia will bear the costs but not
enjoy the significant economic benefits of ratification. If we ratify Kyoto, we
get access to the global carbon market and trading mechanisms built into the
protocol. We gain the opportunity of building new emissions trading
relationships with both developing and advanced economies. We reduce the cost of
achieving the targets to less than half the cost while we remain outside,
according to expert modelling prepared for the Kyoto Protocol Ratification
Advisory Committee. We generate export income from overseas companies who wish
to establish carbon sinks in Australia. Such investments could generate $1
billion of annual export income, according to the Australian Business Council
for Sustainable Energy.

We could also help to foster new businesses in the booming global market for
low-carbon energy-efficient technologies—businesses that can create jobs for
Australia and give us a stronger foothold in global markets for environmental
goods and services already estimated to be worth $US515 billion in 2005.
Business spurns this government on this issue. Instead, because of the
government’s position, we are being excluded from these benefits and face the
risk of being black-listed for trading opportunities by Kyoto signatories.

This government has had much to say which is critical of Kyoto. We on this
side appreciate that Kyoto is far from perfect: it does not go far enough to
stop global warming, it does not yet impose binding commitments on all the
developing countries whose use of carbon fuels is growing, it does not achieve
significant cuts in carbon emissions and it does not set targets beyond 2012.
But we have to be realistic. Regardless of its shortcomings, Kyoto is the only
show in town. While it is not perfect, there is no viable alternative. While it
is not perfect, it gives us a foundation on which to set targets for emissions
beyond 2012 and bring in the developing economies. You will not be able to
address the fact that the Chinese and Indians are excluded from the current
arrangements if you are not there to argue that they should be included after
2012—and we will not be.

It is naive in the extreme for this government to suggest that we can throw
out 15 years of international work on this agreement and think we will get a
deal that addresses these weaknesses. It is simply not credible; it is not how
international diplomacy works. Time, patience and persistence are required. The
Kyoto protocol is the central instrument that will build commitment to the
climate change agenda in the next few years whilst also incubating market based
solutions such as climate change technologies and emissions trading systems. If
this government is serious about addressing the urgent global problem of climate
change then it simply cannot reject the Kyoto protocol—because there is no
realistic alternative to this agreement. That is why we are left scratching our
heads at the bizarre approach this Prime Minister has taken in ignoring the
gravity of the scientific evidence and ignoring the international consensus on
this issue.

There is an image of the Prime Minister that has stuck in my mind this week.
It comes from his comments in an interview with Monica Attard which was
broadcast last weekend. In it the Prime Minister made the point that he is `the
sort of person who retains complete touch with reality’ and is even `at work on
the lawns at Kirribilli every weekend’. To test his assertion, Ms Attard asked
the Prime Minister to name the movie he saw when he last went to the flicks. He
enthusiastically shot back that the movie he had last seen at the flicks was
Four Weddings and a Funeral—a movie which, I seem to remember, was released a
decade ago. As I thought about why the Prime Minister would identify with that
movie, the image of its final scene came to mind—the famous romantic scene in
which Hugh Grant, as Charles, is finally brought together with his true love,
Andie McDowell, as Carrie. Carrie shows up on Charles’s doorstep, amidst the
thunder, lightning and torrential downpour. As the two embrace and are getting
completely soaked in the downpour, and as the lightning flashes and the thunder
roars, Hugh suggests that maybe they should get out of the rain. As Carrie gazes
into Charles’s eyes, she mutters those memorable words which bring to mind the
Prime Minister: `Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.’

In case the Prime Minister had not noticed, 140 nations have signed the Kyoto
protocol—ratified it—but Australia is left outside. We are left on the outside
with a Prime Minister whose backward looking vision is of an Australia which
bears the black mark of being the nation that belches out more greenhouse gases
per head of population than any other but will not sign up to Kyoto, even though
they gave us comfort, and is left out of the enormous opportunities available to
countries that have ratified Kyoto—the economic opportunities created by carbon
trading and the growth of tomorrow’s industries based around low-carbon,
efficient and renewable energy technologies.

Why has the government done this when the evidence is so overwhelming? One
answer comes to mind, based on patterns of past behaviour. There is one thing
that might yet change the Prime Minister’s mind. What has changed between 1997,
when the Prime Minister was gushing his enthusiasm for Kyoto, and today, when he
derides it? It is not the science; it is more convincing now than it was then.
It is not the level of world support; it is more overwhelming now. It is not the
urgency; it has become more pressing. It is not the emergence of an alternative
plan; Kyoto is the only game in town. The only thing that happened is the US
changed its position during that period. That is the one thing that has changed
since 1997—just one thing. Beyond all doubt, and despite the Prime Minister’s
blustering words, if the US changed its position back again, supporting Kyoto,
the ink would not be dry on the US signature before the Prime Minister would
have ratified the protocol. That is the only change. It is an extraordinary
position to get into, because I honestly do not feel that the United States
would think anything of it if the Prime Minister ratified this agreement. It has
not worried them that Blair has signed. It has not worried them that other
allies and friends of the United States have signed it. Those countries regard
it as their own business; they are not there to be influenced or bullied by the
United States.

It does the US alliance no good, and it does no good to the reputation of
people in this country who are seriously worried about the impacts of global
change and the loss of business opportunities that flow from this to have it
believed in the community that the only thing that caused the Prime Minister to
change his mind was not the economic argument—because we know that he rejected
that and signed up to the targets anyway—but the relationship with the US. And
it is a criterion in the relationship about which the US makes no demands at
all. You will not go further in undermining the alliance and the good regard of
young Australians, who are seriously seized with this, than if you let them
think for one minute that your position has somehow or other been a product of
trying to align yourself with the United States on this position. This is a
moment in time which Australia cannot afford to miss. This is a moment in time
when Australian workers cannot afford to see a government exclude them from the
employment opportunities. This is a moment in time when Australian business
demands a government response, but the government will not make it. (Time
expired)