Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Australia: the pinup for Kyoto recalcitrants

The world’s leading authority on the economics of climate change says Australia is “seriously damaging” international efforts to fight global warming.

Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of Britain’s Stern Report told the Press Club yesterday that the example of Australia was quoted to him in discussions around the world.

He said people who are skeptical about coordinated efforts to fight global warming tell him: “You are going to have a problem with countries peeling off. Look at Australia. It won’t sign the Kyoto protocol”.

Australia is one of only two of the original parties to the protocol not to have signed. The other is the United States.

“People take Australia not signing as a strong statement. It is very often quoted at me”.... Sir Nicholas said.

“And then I have to start explaining that Australia will probably meet the Kyoto targets, that it is reforesting rather than deforesting, that there is lots of exciting moves being done in technology and so on. But is often quoted as a symbol of the difficulty of getting other nations to do things.”

The Kyoto protocol requires signatory countries to cut their emissions to an average of 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.

Sir Nicholas said that far deeper cuts were needed beyond that. He said that in order to stabilise global temperatures by 2050 greenhosue gas emissions would have to fall by 30 per cent. Rich countries, which have already had the benefit of centuries of high emissions should shoulder most of the burden, cutting their emissions by between 60 and 90 per cent.

He said that that with the expiry of the Kyoto agreement in 2012 now around the corner Australia’s signature on it would now be “more symbolic than anything else” but he said the symbolism was important.

“Australia produces about 1 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses. If each producer of 1 per cent said it would not agree to anything until everybody else did, nothing would happen.”

“More and more countries are prepared to move on the judgment of their own responsibilities in the light that others are also moving, and that is gaining momentum, but if some countries peel off, the momentum is seriously damaged,” he said.

The Press Club address was attended by a number of politicians and public servants, including Senator Bob Brown, Labor’s environment spokesman Peter Garrett and the Secretary to the Treasury Ken Henry.

Later at Parliament House Sir Nicholas briefed the Prime Minister and Opposition leader and also the Treasurer Peter Costello and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In question time John Howard defended Australia’s decision not to sign the Kyoto protocol saying that the Stern Report and the Kyoto agreement were “prescriptions from Europeans that come from a European perspective.”

“Nations that do not have vast reserves of fossil fuel have a different view about this matter than nations that do. Australia is in a very unusual position: we have a small population but we have been blessed by providence with large reserves of fossil fuel. We should play to our natural advantages and I am simply not going to agree to prescriptions that are going to damage the future of the Australian economy, and I am not going to agree to prescriptions that are going to cost the jobs of Australian coalminers.”

“The reason the Australian government has not signed Kyoto is that if we had entered into the Kyoto protocols in their present terms it would potentially have put this country at a competitive disadvantage. I note, incidentally, that unlike many of the countries that have ratified the Kyoto protocol, this country is on track to meet its Kyoto target, unlike many of the countries that presume to lecture Australia on what she should be doing,” the Prime Minister said.

Ahead of his meeting with Sir Nicholas The Treasurer Peter Costello told the parliament that his department had examined the Stern report and knew of criticisms of the assumptions that underpinned it. “I am not even aware that the UK government has accepted all of the findings of that report,” he said.