Jul 10, 2008

Speech to British Infrastructure Forum

Speech by the Hon Anthony Albanese MP Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government to British Infrastructure Forum

Thursday 10 July 2008, Australia House, London

Introduction

Thank you for joining me today and for taking part in this Forum.

Your attendance here today is symbolic of a growing global effort to tackle what is one of the biggest social, economic and environmental challenges of our generation – avoiding dangerous climate change.

It’s a global effort that is clearly gathering further momentum.  

There is a renewed focus from like-minded countries, such as ours, to share ideas and information on tackling climate change.  

Australia & Europe working together…

My brief visit to Europe will draw to a close tomorrow.

During this time, I’ve been fortunate to discuss with my northern hemisphere counterparts a range of infrastructure, transport and climate change issues.

Headlining these meetings have been discussions on how we can reduce emissions from the transport sector.

At a global level, transport represents 23 percent of total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  It’s a global problem requiring global solutions.  

The leadership shown by Europe is widely respected in Australia.   

The work we are undertaking together to combat climate change builds on our rich historical, cultural and economic connections.

We used this strong bond to our advantage in Bali, where Australia and the EU worked very effectively to help launch negotiations on a new, international post 2012 framework.

Australia and the Kyoto protocol…

A government’s first piece of legislation or its first major decision after assuming office says a lot about what the governing Party believes is important, and what it regards as the most urgent issue requiring attention.

That’s why in December last year, our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, put pen to paper and ratified the Kyoto protocol.

It gave Australia a long overdue seat at the international climate change table, and signalled to the world we are serious in our efforts to tackle global warming.  

Ratifying the Protocol sent a very clear message to the rest of the world.

It said to the global community that Australia recognises it has an important role to play fighting climate change domestically, and internationally.

Quite simply, that stroke of the Prime Minister’s pen put Australia back on the avoiding dangerous climate change map.

We are an active participant within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the main world forum for determining how we can best respond to climate change on a global basis.  

And, we are playing a constructive role in global negotiations for a post-2012 framework for tackling climate change.

This includes engaging in strategic bilateral dialogue with key countries, which includes of course the United Kingdom.

When Kevin Rudd visited these shores in April this year, climate change discussions were at the top of his agenda.

His visit paved the way for a new Australia-UK Climate Change Partnership.

One of the features of the new partnership is our two governments working more closely together through Australia’s membership of the International Carbon Action Partnership.

The Partnership will also help foster a closer working relationship between our two countries’ scientists who are working on strategies to combat climate change.

His visit also helped forge closer links with Europe on a number of climate change issues.

In a joint statement from Kevin Rudd and Jose Manuel Barroso, the two leaders described our relationship as one which “exemplifies how the international community must work together to achieve lasting solutions to our most difficult challenges.”  

Climate change in Australia…

So why did the Government ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and why is the new Labor Government playing a greater role than our predecessor to combat climate change?

Apart from the obvious answer – that we understood we needed to be part of the climate change solution, not part of the problem – it’s because we are seeing before our very eyes the impacts of climate change.

You may be aware that Australia is currently in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history.

For our farmers, this has resulted in crop and stock losses, while for people living in the cities it means water restrictions, and a greater awareness of the need to use our most precious resource more responsibly.

The area worst affected by drought is Southern Australia, which is expected to continue to receive low levels of rainfall.

Over the last decade, Australia has also experienced a number of serious bushfires which have lead to loss of life, and cost millions of dollars in property damage.

While this has been occurring, Australia’s north has been hit by a number of devastating floods and cyclones in recent years.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by science.

Earlier this week the Australian Government released a report which found droughts in Australia may be more severe and occur more frequently in the future.

The report was undertaken by the government’s Bureau of Meteorology, and Australia’s leading scientific body, the CSIRO.

It tells us that in the worst scenario, droughts could occur twice as often and cover twice the area in the future.

Importantly, it also shows that our droughts could be more severe in key agricultural production areas.

Temperatures currently defined as ‘exceptional’ are likely to occur, on average, once in every two years in many key agricultural production areas within the next 20 years to 30 years.

 

Whilst we have always been a country of droughts and flooding rains, our changing weather pattern has led most Australians to the same conclusion…

Our climate is changing, and we need to act now.  

Climate change – an economic issue…

Climate change is not only the greatest environmental challenge of our time – it’s also the most significant economic challenge facing the planet.

Although we were in opposition at the time, we were paying close attention when Lord Stern reported to the British Government on the economic imperative for meeting the challenge of climate change.

Through his report and his subsequent trip to Australia in March of last year, Lord Stern delivered a couple of key messages.

One –  the cost of inaction on climate change outweighs the cost of action.  

And two – there are major economic opportunities for those who adapt and innovate.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the British Government understand this.  I’m here to tell you the Australian Government also understands this.


Development of an Australian Emissions Trading Scheme…

The previous government neglected to act on climate change, and now the situation has become more difficult and urgent.  

The cost will already be greater than it could have been, because we delayed action for too long.

The new Government is taking responsible action now to minimise the costs – both environmental and economic – to ease the burden on future generations.

At the heart of our efforts to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and meet our primary emissions reduction target to reduce emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by the year 2050 is the introduction of an Emissions Trading Scheme, or ETS.

Establishing an ETS in Australia will provide a powerful market mechanism which will give industry an incentive to reduce emissions and will drive further investment in clean and renewable technology.

We have engaged one of our own distinguished economists, Professor Ross Garnaut to examine the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy before we put in place the new scheme.

Professor Garnaut released his draft report last week.  

The 500-page report, which we commissioned while we were in Opposition last year, makes it abundantly clear we must take action on climate change.

We need to act to secure Australia’s long-term prosperity, to ensure a decent future for our children, and to provide international leadership to help shape a long-term global solution.

The draft report is part of our careful and methodical approach to finalising the design of our emissions trading scheme to get the best results for our climate while minimising risks to our economy.   

Professor Garnaut’s work is a timely reminder that the world is warming and this is causing more droughts, water shortages and extreme weather.

As I mentioned earlier, Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change, given our already hot and dry conditions.

The report shows Australia’s international terms of trade will be adversely affected by climate change.  

This will be driven by declines in demand from our major export markets.

This finding confirms the Government’s view that if we take action now, the cost will be far less than if we delay.

The Government looks forward to the Garnaut Review’s final report later this year.

We will not be relying solely on Professor Garnaut’s work.

In addition, we have engaged the Australian Treasury to carry out in-depth modelling, so we know what the impacts of our decisions will be.

The Government is also consulting extensively in order to get the design of the Australian ETS right.  This includes talking with industry, community groups, and other levels of government.

An Australian ETS will be designed to:

  • manage the economic impact of the transition to a low emissions economy while assuring ongoing economic prosperity;
  • maximise practical coverage of greenhouse gases and emitting sectors;
  • have effective international linkages, suitable to Australia’s economic conditions; and
  • address the impact on strongly affected industries and the competitive challenges faced by emission-intensive trade-exposed industries.

Of course, as a Labor Government, we will also be examining the equity implications of the Scheme.  

The Government will release a Green Paper next Wednersday outlining options and our preferred approach to the design of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Government’s intention is to introduce the necessary legislation into parliament next year, ahead of the scheme’s commencement.

Australian transport sector…

I’d like to spend the next few moments providing you with a brief outline of some of the initiatives we are pursuing in Australia – separate to the ETS – to reduce emission levels from the transport sector.

In Australia, the transport sector is estimated to be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions after stationary energy and agriculture, accounting for around 14 percent of total greenhouse emissions.  

 

The Australian Government’s approach to reducing emissions from the transport sector is based on implementing practical, affordable and well-researched measures.  

Broadly speaking, they cover four main areas.

Transport infrastructure

The first of these is improving the way we plan, finance and build Australia’s transport infrastructure.

The Rudd Government is leading from the front to revitalise our nation’s transport infrastructure.

Since coming to office late last year, we have established a new body called Infrastructure Australia to provide government with a blueprint to guide further infrastructure investment.

The body – chaired by Sir Rod Eddington – is comprised of 12 infrastructure experts from the public and private sector.  

It will advise Australian governments on our nation’s infrastructure gaps and bottlenecks.

One specific task of Infrastructure Australia is to provide advice to government on the effects of climate change in respect of both new and existing infrastructure.

In addition, since coming to office, we have unveiled a new body called the Major Cities Unit to reinvigorate the Commonwealth’s focus on cities and urban development.

We are also working in partnership with our states, territories and local government to develop a single national transport policy.

We want to see better planning and investment in infrastructure to serve freight supply chains and the movement of people, particularly in the major cities, and greater uniformity in national regulatory structures.

The government has embraced the need to achieve these outcomes in the context of climate change.

We have also established the Building Australia Fund, a $20 billion commitment to fund infrastructure shortfalls, including roads, rail, ports and broadband.

International Forums

The second part of our approach to reduce emissions from the transport sector is taking a leading role in international forums to address emissions from our aviation and maritime sectors.  

The international aviation and shipping sectors are each integrated and global.  

With emissions from the maritime and aviation sectors both forecast to rise over coming years, the Government is committed to continuing multilateral efforts in the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Maritime Organization and the International Transport Forum, to develop and implement agreed practical initiatives to manage greenhouse gas emission levels.  

It is important we maintain a global approach to tackling emissions from these truly global sectors.

We need to ensure measures to address aviation emissions are both broad in their coverage and effective in their outcome.

Measures taken at the national level on international aviation emissions need to ensure they do not shift emissions to another jurisdiction – for example, by distorting competition by not applying it to all airlines.

Empowering Consumers

The third is empowering consumers with information so they can make more informed choices about reducing their carbon footprint.

The Government has a website called the Green Vehicle Guide which rates individual vehicles on their environmental performance.  

In a sense, it allows people to ‘try before they buy’, allowing them to see how efficient and environmentally friendly their potential new car will be.   

And from later this year, vehicle manufacturers will need to provide improved labelling on new vehicles to provide potential buyers with information about the models’ fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

New low emission technology

The fourth initiative is providing incentives to encourage the manufacturing of low emission vehicles in Australia.

This includes the establishment of a Green Car Innovation Fund.  

This fund will assist Australia to meet the challenges of climate change by encouraging the Australian automotive industry to develop and manufacture low emissions cars.

From this fund, $35 million will be provided in assistance to Toyota Australia, to support the production of the hybrid Camry in Victoria.

 

Conclusion

To conclude my remarks, I would like to share with you a quote from your Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Speaking late last year on the need for global approach to climate change, he said this.

All of us – government, business, civil society and individuals – have a part to play in this momentous task.  Working apart we will surely fail, but working together I have no doubt that this is a challenge to which the human spirit and all our powers of ingenuity and enterprise will rise.

Today’s event is putting these fine sentiments into action.

Countries cannot deal with climate change on their own: it is a global problem requiring a global solution.

Engaging in dialogue and sharing ideas is a small but important step towards achieving a truly global approach to tackling the most important challenge of our time.