Feb 16, 2005

Matters of Public Importance: Kyoto Protocol

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: Kyoto Protocol


16/02/2005


Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.30 p.m.) —What an extraordinary contribution from the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources to the matter of public importance debate today on the Kyoto protocol, but where is the minister who represents the Minister for the Environment and Heritage in this House? He could not even be bothered to speak on what is the most significant environmental challenge facing the global community. That says it all, when it comes to this government. The contribution of the industry minister was quite extraordinary. He spoke about a program that had been designed in Europe. Minister, there is a reason why it is called the Kyoto protocol: it was formed in Kyoto. The minister said there is a reason why only 34 industrialised countries have signed up to the Kyoto protocol. Guess what: we were one of the countries that originally signed up. The minister confuses industrialised nations with nations overall. It is quite clear why the Kyoto protocol originally had that number of signatories and why developing countries do not have to reduce their emissions in the first stage: because it is appropriate. Industrialised countries, including Australia, thought it was appropriate that we showed leadership on this issue, which is why we were an original signatory.

The minister spoke about how Australian corporations are somehow against this. Not a single Australian company has said it will move offshore if we ratify the Kyoto protocol. We know that to be the case. We also know that the first company in the world to engage in the European emissions trading system was a company called BHP Billiton—one that has a bit of history here in Australia!

The Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources was put up in this debate on the same day he appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald with his head under the doona, 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.

That is good, that is terrific and that is a great start. But compare those comments with the comments from the Minister for the Environment and Heritage who argues that the reason why we should not ratify this agreement is that it does not go far enough. He agrees with us—he did not before he was environment minister, but once he became environment minister he got a bit of a departmental briefing, went on Insiders and said global warming was the greatest issue facing the international community. Now he says:

I think we need to engage the climate sceptics—

he has done that internally—

those people who are pulling the doona up over their heads, and get past the debate over whether or not climate change is real. There is a dominance of science which does say that the massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions has contributed to human-induced climate change.

The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out the Prime Minister’s comments—his emotional excitement, getting carried away with himself and congratulating his government on 19 December 1997 for the Kyoto protocol details. Of course, what the Prime Minister did not say is that, once again, like all good things that happen in this nation, it began under Labor. At the Rio summit in 1992, the Australian Labor government played a critical role in advancing the cause that has led to today’s historic agreement. But the Prime Minister was not alone. The Minister for Resources and Energy at the time, former senator Warwick Parer, said:

The Kyoto Protocol provides a sound basis for protecting Australia’s export competitiveness and employment prospects in our minerals processing and energy export industries …

The Deputy Prime Minister, who was then Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, said:

… the Kyoto agreement permitting Australia an 8% increase in emissions of 6 greenhouse gases by 2012 over 1990 levels will preserve the interests of farmers, miners, manufacturing industry and the economy in general.

Critical to the point the Leader of the Opposition makes regarding the future are the words of the then Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill. Senator Hill—Hansard, 23 November 1999—said:

… Australia, although accepting a demanding target at Kyoto, nevertheless got a fair target, and it is unlikely that any alternative international negotiation that could potentially subsume Kyoto in the future would give to Australia an opportunity that is as fair as we were able to negotiate in Kyoto.

Game, set and match. This is not just about what happens today but about what happens in 2012. The irony is that it is absolutely in Australia’s national interest. It is in our economic interest, the interest of our employment and the interest of our environment that we ratify this protocol. We live in the driest continent on earth and are particularly vulnerable to climate change. We all live around the coast and we saw what happened recently with the tsunami in Asia. That was a tragic event—an event which we could do nothing to avoid. This crisis is looming. It will create environmental refugees and see nations, such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, literally disappear. It will see one-sixth of Bangladesh disappear and 30 million people in India displaced.

Mr Snowdon —As well as the Cocos Islands.

Mr ALBANESE —As well as the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, which are part of our territory. It will see salt water flood Kakadu. As well, there will be an increase in the impacts we see already—the decrease in rainfall in Western Australia, the increase in the number of droughts in New South Wales and the coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef.

We are particularly vulnerable, but we are also in a unique situation to take advantage of economic opportunities. The clean development mechanism projects are how we get the developing countries to be part of this. Yes, they do not have to reduce their targets, but we receive a carbon credit—an economic one-off bonus—if we invest in renewables in developing countries.

What is frightening is that China is actually doing a bit better than we are in this area. If you exclude the decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland Labor governments to stem land clearing, then our emissions are a disaster, whether in industry or transport. An Australian Greenhouse Office report—the same report that in December last year said we will meet the 108 per cent target—projected that there would be a 23 per cent increase in emissions by Australia up to the year 2020. The irony is that by not being a part of the agreement it is actually twice as expensive to meet our target, because you forsake the economic gain. It is absolutely extraordinary that the government boasts that it will meet the target but does not want the opportunity that comes with it—the carrot and stick approach: it wants the stick but it is not prepared to take the carrot of those economic opportunities.

The great tragedy is that this will be a driving force in 21st century economic development. This is not something that is going to grow slowly; this is something that will grow exponentially. I have heard comments from government ministers today, `The carbon-trading market hasn’t exploded yet; it is not worth billions yet.’ It is day one. The agreement just began. It is quite clear that the smart companies in Australia—the Commonwealth Bank and Bayard Capital—and organisations such as Sydney Futures Exchange are positioning themselves. That is why companies such as Shell and BP are positioning themselves. They have internal emissions trading markets. Saudi Arabia has ratified the agreement. They know what the future is, and so should we. It does not make economic sense for Australia, it does not make sense in terms of Australia’s employment opportunities and it certainly does not make sense for Australia’s environment. The Prime Minister reversed his position on 5 June 2002. Does anyone think if the US ratified the protocol that we would not? (Time expired)