Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol

A leading Australian environmentalist has argued that Australia - which has one of the highest per capita carbon emission rates in the world - should ratify the Kyoto Protocol because this would enable the country to take the international lead on carbon emissions reduction and put it into a stronger position to press for concessions on carbon sinks.

Dr Clive Hamilton, the Executive Director of independent public policy research centre, The Australia Institute, says that the benefits of ratifying the Protocol before the conference of the parties in The Hague in November “would be huge, with no downside risk.” He adds that scientific evidence for climate change is accumulating, leading the Australian Government to acknowledge the wisdom of ratifying Kyoto rather than risk the introduction of a new and possibly tougher international process.
In 1998, the Australian Federal Cabinet voted not to ratify until after the US had done so. But, says Dr Hamilton, the global political and commercial environment has changed radically since then. The third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to add to the growing scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming is a reality. This, argues Dr Hamilton, means the public increasingly associates major weather events with climate change. Bowing to this shift in public perception, big businesses has begun to distance itself from anti-Kyoto organisations such as the Global Climate Coalition.
Dr Hamilton also points out that the staunchest critics of Kyoto in the US – such as Senators Chuck Hagel and Larry Craig – are complaining about being abandoned by their corporate backers, especially car companies.
A similar shift appears to happening in the Australian Government, according to Dr Hamilton. Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill recently pointed out to an emissions trading conference that if the Kyoto Protocol collapses “there is no question that it would be overtaken by some other international process”, one that is unlikely to make the sorts of concessions that were extracted by Australia at Kyoto.
Although Australia is among the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases , it emits relatively little in absolute terms. At least 55 parties to the convention, accounting for at least 55% of Annex 1 CO2 emissions, must ratify before the Protocol can enter into force. Even though Australia’s ratification of Kyoto would make no difference to whether the protocol enters into force, Dr Hamilton argues it would neutralise resentment against Australia accumulated prior to and at Kyoto.
“Immediately after Kyoto,” says Dr Hamilton, “the European spokesperson reflected international sentiment when he said of the Australian deal: “It’s a disgrace and it will have to change.” The Hague conference is the first opportunity to rectify the error. Australia’s diplomatic stocks are so low, that it has little purchase in negotiations over issues seen to be vital to the national interest.”
Australia wants to broaden the Protocol’s definition of carbon sinks to include so-called ‘additional agricultural activities’ that some scientists believe release less CO2 into the atmosphere, thus enabling it to meet its Kyoto commitments. Dr Hamilton has already warned that moves to exploit the loophole could lead to the treaty’s collapse.
Dr Hamilton argues that early ratification “would instantly transform Australia’s image from one of recalcitrant laggard to bold leader.” He adds: “Senator Hill could stride into The Hague conference having upstaged even the Europeans and be in a much stronger position to argue for sinks. He would also be in a better position to resist tight interpretations of other provisions affecting Australia, such as the ‘Australia clause’ in Article 3.7, arguing that Australia had ratified in good faith.
“Early ratification would be a diplomatic coup; Australia has nothing to lose and everything to gain from it. The only doubt – and it is a big one – is whether the Howard Government has the strategic foresight to make such a move.”

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