Australia puts ‘downer’ on Kyoto meeting

As The Hague's international climate summit on the Kyoto Protocol begins, Australia's position, emphasising flexibility, is certain to conflict with that of European and low-lying island states.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has announced that the country “will not carry an unfair share of the burden to cut greenhouse gas emissions”, ahead of the talks in The Hague. “We will attempt to achieve an outcome which minimises the cost to Australia of implementing the Kyoto Protocols,” Mr Downer told the Australian parliament. “The two most important issues for us in that respect will be securing workable and efficient rules for sinks and for international emissions trading and the other flexibility mechanisms in the protocol.”

His comments are sure to put him on a collision course with the European Commission (see ‘Europe’ section this week) and with low-lying island nations.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter and a major user of coal to produce energy, agreed to limit its emissions growth to 108% of 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012, but according to recent government figures there has already been a 16.9 % increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 1998.

Mr Downer argued that Australia would be disadvantaged if controls only applied to developed countries and did not recognise that emissions from developing countries were set to exceed those of developed countries within the next decade. “Commitments by large developing country emitters will be necessary, otherwise jobs in energy intensive industries could move from Australia to developing countries without any environmental benefit whatsoever,” he said.

“The government wants to avoid a situation where Australian exporters are burdened by strict greenhouse constraints and yet some of our competitors have no constraints at all,” Downer added.

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