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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Journalist: Robert Hill, is Kyoto dead or is it the only game in town?
Hill: Well it's the only game in town - the protocol exists, states have signed the protocol, Australia has signed it.
Journalist: Well the US has said it's dead.
Hill: We accepted a target that we believe is fair and we have a major domestic program to achieve that target. We are seeking to build a less carbon intense economy in Australia and contributing to resolving the issue of global greenhouse gases.
Journalist: But what's the point of being here really if the US is not going to sign it and says it's dead, I mean don't you believe them?
Hill: The US has said that they accept a responsibility to play a leadership role, a global leadership role on the issue of greenhouse gases but they want to reconsider their policy. In other words they believe there were flaws in the policy they inherited from the previous administration and they're looking at it afresh. And we say that because they are so important in terms of a better global outcome, because they are a quarter of total global emissions, it's in everyone's interests to permit them to do so.
Journalist: So can you conceivably imagine a result from this conference that would be acceptable to the United States?
Hill: That's not really for me to address. That's their business. What I'm interested in is making progress on the outstanding issues of Kyoto, because that is the only game in town because the US haven't come up with their new policy, but at the same time leaving the door open to the US because I want them in some way to return to the table because that's the only way you're going to get a better global response.
Journalist: And so what are the sorts of things you're looking for out of this, you're looking for maximising the amount of forest sinks, for example, that you can claim?
Hill: We want decisions or progress on the flexibility mechanisms which are designed to keep the costs down because if you keep costs of abatement down then you get more abatement. We want to address the issues of sinks because they are part of an effective global response, they help reduce net greenhouse gases. We want a less rather than more punitive compliance regime because we want to encourage countries to maintain their engagement in the process because a global response is the only way forward in this instance. There's a whole range of issues that we can make progress on that can contribute to that better global greenhouse outcome.
Journalist: And have you found any willingness by the Europeans for example to concede on points that they weren't willing to before the US changed its mind?
Hill: Well they haven't made concessions as yet. They have said that they are prepared to be more flexible and they said that when they visited Australia a couple of weeks ago and we would expect to know the detail of that during the course of this week.
Journalist: So you're hopeful?
Hill: Yes I'm hopeful but as I said in the officials' negotiations to date they haven't indicated any detail.
Journalist: Is there any sign that Japan, who are coming under a lot of pressure from the EU to sign up, might without the United States?
Hill: Well that's for Japan to decide but I think Japan's position is very similar to Australia's. We want to make progress on the Kyoto Protocol but at the same time we want to keep the door open to the United States because we think that's essential to the best global outcome
Journalist: So you don't see any splits in the Umbrella Group developing?
Hill: Well the Umbrella Group has always been a loose alliance so different members have different positions on particular issues but we've stuck together and seen benefit in working as a group. We're meeting tomorrow and the officials' meetings of the Umbrella Group so far this week have been very productive.
Journalist: How do you react to the environmentalists' criticisms that basically You're just here as a stalking horse for the US trying to find as many loopholes, drive great holes through the Kyoto Protocol in any case and if that's all you're here for you should go home?
Hill: Well that doesn't make sense. We accepted the Kyoto Protocol, we've signed it, we accepted our target and we've got $1 billion in our domestic programs to help achieve the target we accepted. We have a big interest in positive outcomes in this negotiation. And it's more complicated now because of the US wanting to reconsider its policies but we just have to accept that complication and work out the best way forward.
Journalist: Well they're also saying you're trying to workshop the whole idea of the treaty because of what you described as uncertainty in the international response to climate change?
Hill: Well they're easily spooked. That's got nothing to do with any decision before this meeting. "Policies and practices" (topic of the COP's proposed workshop) is our domestic greenhouse response and how it compares with others and what we can learn from each other's experience. And that's one of the positives that's happening around the world is that we find countries taking up new renewable energy options, much greater energy efficiency, new emissions controls for power stations and the like. And we're learning from each other's experiences and that will in due course all contribute to a better outcome.
Journalist: A few months ago you thought this conference would be a waste of time really, not knowing the full US position, do you still feel that or what's changed your mind?
Hill: Well I think we can make some progress on the Kyoto rules, the rules that still haven't been decided. You can debate whether we ought to have done it now or wait until the next meeting which is only three months away but I'm quite happy to give it a go here.
Journalist: At the end of the day if the US still maintains its position would it be feasible to have a string of multi-lateral agreements, do you think that's still something that might happen?
Hill: It's impossible to really answer that. Until we know what the US is proposing, they say that they will come up with constructive and positive alternatives, it's impossible obviously to evaluate. But what we do know is that we need the US if we're going to get an effective global response. They are as I said a quarter of global emissions, they are about a third of developed country emissions, and this whole process is only going to work effectively if everybody accepts their fair share of the burden.
Date: 19 July 2001
Contact: Belinda Huppatz (Senator Hill's office) 08 82377920 or 0419258364