Keen on climate change solutions but no to Kyoto, says Australian Environment Minister

Australia has pledged AU$1 billion (US$0.55 billion) to greenhouse gas reduction, but the Government remains intransigent on the issue of signing the Kyoto Protocol. This was the message received from Dr David Kemp, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage in a speech made in London this week.

The Australian Minister was firm in his country’s rejection of the protocol as it exists presently, quoting his Prime Minister’s words in early June that “the arrangements [under Kyoto] currently excludes both developing countries and the United States, for us to ratify the protocol would cost us jobs and damage our industry”.

Australia has faced international opposition over this decision from countries that have ratified, environmental groups and even states within Australia. However, Minister Kemp was keen to point out the greenhouse measures already implemented in his country and said Australia is “committed to put in place some institutional and regulatory measures that are setting the pace for the world’s best practice”.

In the 2000 ‘Measures for a Better Environment’ programme, Australia set up a number of packages that were intended to benefit the climate change process – one of these included a commitment to their Kyoto reduction target of 8% above their 1990 emissions levels. Other measures, expected to reduce emissions by 60 million tonnes by 2010 are directed under the National Greenhouse Strategy, some of which include:

  • the Greenhouse Gas Abatement programme which supports industry and community projects that reduce emissions;
  • the Greenhouse Challenge which, for the past seven years, organises companies to voluntarily take challenges to reduce greenhouse gases and report on their progress;
  • greenhouse Friendly labels are awarded to products when the company has been involved in the offset of emissions;
  • the Mandatory Renewable Target is an established requirement which will lead to Australia receiving 12% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010; and
  • a National Carbon Accounting System, which tracks changes in carbon stocks as a result of land clearing and reafforestation.

Dr. Kemp said that it was with “regret” that his country felt Kyoto did not fulfil their needs but was adamant that the signing of the protocol would be a disincentive to potential investors as they may incur costs that they would not face in neighbouring regions –i.e developing nations, due to implementation of the protocol.

“For Australia this is not a trivial matter,” Dr Kemp stated, and went on to say that jobs and prosperity would be at risk through signing.

However, a report out this week by Environment Business Australia stated that not ratifying the protocol could be more economically damaging as Australia will have decreasing trade with ratifying countries and will be excluded from the carbon trading schemes.

Many pro-Kyoto groups do not see Australia’s reasons for not signing as valid. “WWF and all other Australian environment groups are extremely concerned by Australia’s failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol,” Dr David Butcher, Chief Executive Offucer WWF Australia told edie. “We do not agree with Dr Kemp that the US stance or developing nations issues should be a factor in Australia’s ratification of the Protocol.”

WWF Australia says that Japan and the EU are more important economic partners to Australia than the US and claim it is unfair to expect the developing countries to curb industrial development to rectify a problem that was created by the developed world. It is also widely thought that the US alternative to Kyoto, which Australia has signed up to, will not curb emissions – it may reportedly increase emissions by 13% within the next decade.

A poll conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres in June 2002 found that 71% of those Australians polled believe it would be in their country’s interest to ratify the international treaty on climate change.

Story by Sorcha Clifford

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