May 16, 2005

Kyoto and the Environment: Speech to Mentone RSL, Melbourne

Kyoto and the Environment: Speech to Mentone RSL, Melbourne

Monday, 16 May 2005

I want to talk tonight about the stark differences between the Government and Labor in addressing Australia and the world’s most serious environmental issue: climate change.

The environment is a critical point of difference between Labor and its Conservative opponents.

The current debate over the environment is about what kind of society we want to live in.

It’s about what sort of jobs we want our children to have and it’s about the health and lifestyle of our families for the next 50-100 years.

It’s as important as that.

John Howard says this is a choice between the economy and the environment.

But, this is not a debate about Right or Left.

This is a debate about right and wrong.

I don’t need to say much more about the science of climate change. Graeme Pearman is Australia’s leading expert on climate change.

You just heard him. He knows his stuff and, as he says, climate change is real, it’s hurting us now and we need to act now.

That is Labor’s starting point. We accept that climate change is here and that it will have a profound impact on Australia’s economy and our environment.

Already, with that last statement, we have a profound difference with the Government.

There’s no doubt that there are many climate change sceptics sitting around the Cabinet table.

A climate change sceptic is someone who, for cynical reasons, ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that our climate is changing. They are a bit like the people who used to argue that smoking does not cause cancer, or CFC’s don’t affect the ozone layer.

A climate change sceptic ignores the fact that global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past century.

They ignore the fact that the 5 hottest years on record have all been in the last decade and that glaciers that have not retreated since the last ice age 12,000 years ago are now doing so.

Climate change sceptics ignore the severe and prolonged water shortages in Australia’s major cities. They ignore that up to 75% of the red gums on the Murray River flood plains are sick or dying; and coral bleaching has damaged significant parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

And why you ask do they ignore that all of this is happening – well, it’s probably got something to do with the Prime Minister’s relationship with George Bush and his close ties to polluting industries.

Slowly but surely the climate change sceptics are outing themselves. Here’s what the Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane said recently:

“Whether or not those [carbon dioxide] 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.”

That was a truly bizarre statement from the Industry Minister, who was until recently responsible for the Australian Greenhouse Office.

Of course, last week’s Budget confirmed the abolition of a separate Australian Greenhouse Office.

Now it will be incorporated as just another section in the Department of Environment and Heritage.

This symbolises the complacency which defines the Government’s lack of concern about climate change, just look at their record.

John Howard can’t stop saying No when it comes to action on climate change.

He’s said No to the Kyoto Protocol.

He’s said No to greenhouse emissions trading.

He’s said No to a higher renewable energy target.

He’s said No to real cuts in greenhouse pollution.

John Howard refusal to engage with the realities of climate change means that greenhouse pollution continues to skyrocket.

So, under the Howard Government we will retain the dubious honour of being the biggest per capita polluter of green house gases in the world.

On top of this, by 2020, Australia’s greenhouse emissions will increase by 23% according to the Australian Greenhouse Office.

This projected increase in emissions poses a serious health risk and a major environmental problem – yet, under this scenario the Government is abolishing the independent Greenhouse Office.

And this projected increase in emissions is happening while other Governments, like the Blair Labour Government in the UK, are setting long term targets to dramatically cut greenhouse emissions.

So, the Howard legacy is increased emissions and silencing the voice who revealed this fact. That is the wrong way to go.

Labor’s approach is very different.

Labor is committed to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

We will introduce an emissions trading scheme and we will encourage the development of a strong clean energy industry through a strong mandatory renewable energy target.

The Kyoto Protocol represents an important change in the attitude of nations and shows they are serious about addressing climate change.

It represents a global response to a global problem.

The Kyoto Protocol has three major features:

1. Mandatory targets on greenhouse-gas emissions for countries which ratify it. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide and the main source of that is from the burning of fossil fuels.

Countries’ emission targets for 2012 range from -8 per cent to 10 per cent of that countries’ 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels. For example, most of the European Union will have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 8%, New Zealand, Russia and Ukraine must keep their emission stable and Australia would actually be able increase its emissions by 8%.

2. The Kyoto Protocol has flexibility and market based mechanisms to assist countries meet the targets. For example, countries may compensate for their emissions by increasing forests, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The forests (or carbon sinks as they are called) can be on their own territory or in other countries, or they may pay for foreign projects that result in greenhouse-gas cuts.

To ensure the flexibility and efficiency of cutting emissions, an emissions trading scheme has been established so parties may trade units of their emissions allowances with other Parties.

3. Importantly, to encourage developing countries, the Kyoto protocol has project based mechanisms, known as Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanisms. Through these mechanisms industrialized countries can partly meet their emissions targets through "credits" earned by sponsoring greenhouse-gas-reducing projects.

In the case of Clean Development Mechanism projects, such activities occur in developing countries.

The Kyoto Protocol has widespread international support and will provide the architecture and reporting, monitoring and verifying infrastructure for future international agreements on climate change.

Countries such as Canada, Japan, New Zealand and every country in Europe, are all adopting domestic measures to implement the Kyoto Protocol and countries like India and China have developed the necessary frameworks for the pursuit of Clean Development Mechanisms.

Following ratification by Russia in 2004, the Kyoto Protocol became legally binding on its 141 parties on 16 February 2005.

Labor is committed to ensuring Australia gets economic benefits from cutting greenhouse emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol is essentially a carrot and stick approach. The effort must be made to reach the target. But the carrot is early access to new and still evolving economic opportunities such as the global carbon trading market.

Kyoto harnesses the power of the market by putting a price on carbon. The carbon trading system will be worth billions of dollars in Europe alone.

Doing the right thing by the environment makes economic sense.

BP, one of the world’s largest energy suppliers, improved its bottom line by $US650 million by establishing and trialling an internal carbon trading market.

According to the Business Review Weekly, while the European renewable energy industry is booming, Australia is missing out on $3 billion worth of investment because of the Howard Government’s inertia.

In fact, in Spain, Denmark and Germany alone the expansion of the renewable energy sector has created about a quarter of a million new jobs in the last few years.

John Howard’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol has meant Australian companies such as Macquarie Bank are investing in massive renewable energy projects in Europe and Britain.

Australian jobs, Australian export dollars and Australian know-how are all going overseas because the Howard Government is not taking climate change seriously.

In short, to sustain prosperity, we must sustain the planet.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit a new wave power facility operated by Energetech at Port Kembla near Wollongong.

This is cutting edge technology designed and operated in the Wollongong region. Given the right support by Government and Australian industry, this could be a world beater and a major generator of Australian jobs and Australian export dollars.

The project funnels waves into a collector which causes air to rush through the chamber, which in turn drives the turbine.

Quite literally, it harnesses the power of the ocean to light up the city.

At the moment, it’s a demonstration project. A single device could power 2000 homes without producing greenhouse emissions. If the project is successful, it could be a major contributor in the battle to stop climate change.

The wave energy project also includes a small desalination plant, which converts ocean water into drinking water. Again, without any greenhouse emissions. Given that most of our major cities are running out of water, and are seriously looking at desalination plants, this could be a real winner.

Energetech reckons the wave energy project has export potential of up to $5 billion, so you’d think the Howard Government would be dead keen to jump on board. Sadly, the opposite is true.

Although the Australian Greenhouse Office has contributed $1 million to the wave energy project, and that’s very welcome, it’s still a pretty small contribution and is less funding than the technology has received from North American Governments.

If Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, under the Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, Australian companies such as Energetech could export environmental technology to the Asia Pacific region. This enormous export potential will not be realised while we stay out of the Kyoto Protocol.

So, it is quite possible that Energetech will be forced to go overseas, taking jobs, export markets and hope for a better environment with it.

The Howard government closed the Energy Research and Development Corporation in 1997-98.

The Energy Research and Development Corporation had invested almost $100 million in 350 energy innovation ventures since it was created in 1990 by the Hawke Government.

The Howard Government then withdrew funding from the Co-operative Research Centre for Renewable Energy in December 2002.

The Howard Government has introduced the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target but set the target at a paltry 2%.

And of course – the Howard Government appointed a Rio Tinto stalwart as the Government’s chief scientist – and sees no conflict of interest.

It is startling that the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2004 that the proportion of Australia’s overall energy consumption from renewable resources declined in the 10 years 1991-2001 from 6% to 5.7%.


Climate change will be a central factor in the quality of life of generations to come. Government failure on this issue highlights the strategic differences between the major political Parties.

The conservative agenda is all about short term politics, whether its climate change, skills, industrial relations or infrastructure, as demonstrated by the regional rorts program. Only Labor has the vision to deliver policies aimed at securing our long term prosperity.

Twenty years ago Governments still ran education campaigns against littering on the ground. No child now has to be told “don’t litter”.

Ten years ago Governments moved towards recycling our domestic waste. Now everyone diligently separates their bottles and paper from other waste.

Earlier generations would have seen this as optimistic, or even a bit strange.

I am sure that ten years from now consideration of the impact of human activity on climate change will be a natural part of our everyday lives.

Our children have a strong sense of the need to care for the planet on which we live, as anyone who visits a Primary School can verify.

We all tell our children to listen to their parents and elders. However, I agree with Tony Blair that when it comes to the environment, we, the parents, should listen to our children.

After all, it’s their future.