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Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
15 November, 2005
[opening remarks - refers to first interview on ABC radio as Environment Minister over a year ago]
...Climate change I thought then was the biggest environmental challenge facing the world, facing Australia. Nothing I've ever read or seen or heard since then has turned me off that course, and so of course to have a conference attended by so many leading participants and stakeholders in this debate is a very good thing for Australia.
Could I firstly thank Howard Bamsey for his own leadership of the AGO in this area. It's an area where Australia, despite what you read in much of the Australian media, is recognised internationally as a leader. Howard has just returned from about three weeks circling the globe, primarily on climate change business, first in Japan, but then again in Europe, where he did some preparatory work for me prior to Tony Blair's G8-plus conference and only on Friday returned from an incredibly important meeting in Buenos Aires which was focussed on how we build a global coalition of nations to try and conserve whales. I know it's not a lot to do with this particular conference but it was a great achievement to see the South American nations coming together, also to invite Australia, South Africa, Spain and New Zealand I think it was Howard, to a meeting to see the South American bloc re-energised and re-activated behind Australia's leadership in trying to close down whaling and it's another great feather in Howard's cap as an international ambassador - with a small "a" at the moment for Australia's leadership in that area.
It is true, in so many areas, in the Greenhouse area, Australia is a world leader. Howard's just informed me that as part of preparations for the G8, he held meetings on energy efficiency with the European Union and the clear message out of that is that the Europeans are looking to Australia for leadership, looking to our leadership should I say, in relation to a whole load of energy efficiency regulations and the labelling projects and so forth. That's one small area where Australia already leads the world.
And can I say having read through the G8 plan of action where the G8 leadership put down a series of benchmarks and milestones that the G8 countries agreed to meet coming out of the Gleneagles conference, when we analyse where Australia stood in relation to virtually every one of those action items, we virtually ticked them off as achieved. So for a government and a country that's quite often is very good self-flagellating itself on greenhouse activities... that's within the domestic marketplace and within the domestic media, if you look at Australia internationally on actions that we've taken as opposed to rhetoric the government has led in many areas. And a lot of that is to do with the leadership that the Australian Greenhouse Office, as an institution, the first of its type in the world, has achieved within government. And a lot of that is to do with Howard's leadership, so Howard, thank you very much on behalf of the government for that leadership.
Can I just say that I think that the year of 2005 has been an incredibly constructive one in the international and domestic debate on greenhouse issues. I think that from my perspective, the world has now moved on from what I call "the two parrots in a cage" arguing over Kyoto; we've now moved to where the world is now doing as Australia did, over a year ago when we wrote the Coalition's policy for the last election and that was to say that the debate needed to move, to use a term that I think we stole from the Pew Centre Howard, but move the debate beyond Kyoto. I sought to make that a part of the lexicon in Australian politics. We stole it from the Pew Centre but it struck me as being a very good position and a constructive position can I say for Australia to take about where we go with greenhouse climate change policy, both domestically and internationally.
It always struck me as being a very easy way out for climate change activists - to just suggest frame the debate about whether or not Australia was going to be part of the Kyoto Protocol. It didn't discuss the merits of Kyoto, it didn't discuss what the world really needs to achieve. I think the great achievement post COP 10 in Buenos Aires is that the world has now realised, having had a short celebration in Buenos Aires about Kyoto coming into force, that the reality of Kyoto - to coin Tony Blair's praise, where he says that ... the world ... realises that Kyoto (to quote) "is not enough"; the challenge, of course, to quote him there is that "we need to cut greenhouse emissions radically but Kyoto doesn't even stabilise them." You don't have to believe a crusty old conservative politician in Australia, like myself, you can listen to a sensitive new age, New Labour politician from Great Britain when he says that. And of course Tony Blair has been a very strong supporter of Kyoto but he realises - because he's a very intelligent man, and a very sensible man - that the challenges that face the world is far more substantial than Kyoto can even begin to address. And he knows, and I know, that as we travel towards Montreal and COP 11 and the first Meeting of the Parties, MOP 1, that we have to find something far more substantial internationally if we are to achieve what the world needs to achieve. And can I - without labouring Tony Blair's leadership in this area - say I think he did the world a marvellous service in making the pivotal point of his G8 leadership, his chairmanship of the G8, presidency of the G8, and his presidency of the European Union, the two key challenges - and that is to alleviate poverty, particularly in the sub-Saharan Africa, and again to address climate challenge, because the two are intrinsically linked. I think it's incredibly important in such an affluent society as Australia, certainly in the inner cities, I guess if you move out to the deserts amongst our Indigenous friends that's not always the case, but in the incredibly affluent society of Australia, I think it's important to describe to Australians in particular what the nature of the challenge is. I think Tony Blair has defined it in a very sound way.
The reality is the world is going to need more energy than it's ever used before. On the one hand, because we do have millions and millions of people on this globe, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in our own near region in Asia and also in South America - all around the world there are millions of people whose life expectancy will fall well short of their tenth birthday; there are millions of people who don't have reticulated power and who don't have access to education and health services that all of us take for granted; don't have access to clean food or clean water. This is the challenge that the leaders of the world, through the Millennium Development Goals, have established for us as an international community and I think they're in fact goals we can only describe as being minimalist. They're looking at, for example, generally bringing around half the people who are in poverty in the globe, out of poverty by the year 2015. And I think all of us would love to achieve that; we're aiming to achieve that through a whole range of policies but I think we'd like to see all of the people of the world lifted out of poverty at least by the year 2030. But you won't do that if you constrain the economies of the developed world and you certainly won't do that if you constrain the economies of the developing world. So we do need rapid economic growth, sustainable economic growth, in the developed and the developing world. In the developed world we need growth because we want to keep lifting people's living standards, we want to keep lifting the aspirations and the goals and the achievements of all our people, and particularly those on the lowest income and in the most dire straits - and many of those in Australia are, of course are Indigenous Australians - we need to ensure that. We also need to ensure that we have a growing economy so we have the wherewithal, so we have the resources to invest in the technology and the deployment of the technologies to address climate change. Anyone who tells you that by constraining an economy you can solve the climate change challenge, is misleading you; you do need strong economic growth to bring on the sort of investment that's required to have a carbon constrained future. So on the one hand of the equation you have an inarguable case for improving the performance of world economy, improving the performance of the developed economies and infusing the developing world with the fundamental and the foundations for economic growth. And can I just say - it's probably unusual to say at a Greenhouse conference - but one of those things needs to be success in the Doha trade round; we need reform of the world trading systems to ensure that economic growth, and growth in the developing world, is lifted. And so it is, of course, galling for Australians to be lectured by the Europeans on why won't we sign Kyoto and why won't we join any emissions trading scheme. These sort of gurus of trade say 'come and join our trading scheme' but when we say there's a lot of countries in the world who would love to trade with you but let's get trade in wheat and cheese and a few of these things right before we start developing a perfect trading system for an invisible gas. So I do get a little frustrated by that, getting lectured by the Europeans on just how Australia is not particularly good at trade.
That is the challenge then. The challenge, we're told by the International Energy Agency, is that the world will close to double its requirements for energy between now and the year 2030, and that will see a requirement to build 7800 new power generation facilities around the globe; a massive expansion in the power generation in the world, the energy that's consumed in the world, and some would say 'well that's a disaster!' They also tell us that 80 percent of it, even by the year 2030, is likely to be generated using fossil fuels, and of course green activities would prefer to see the economy shrunk as a way to reduce greenhouse gases will find that alarming. But as I've said if you keep in mind the need to alleviate poverty and to lift living standards and to drive a strong economy to create the wherewithal to solve climate change then you understand that it's actually ... building 7,800 power stations is actually an incredibly important and very, very good thing. And that will cost, we're told by the IEA at the World Energy Forum in 2004 in the region of $US16 trillion - so a massive investment that will be made. My own strong view is that it is that very investment that will solve the problem. We need in fact to secure what the consensus of world science tells us - that is a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 50 or 60 and I guess at this conference you've probably heard different percentages for every different speaker about what we have to achieve but the consensus is whether it's 50 or 60 per cent or 80 or 90 per cent; whatever it is we need radical and deep cuts to emissions at a time when the world energy use is going to be continuing to rise. So you have this absolutely pivotal joint public policy achievement that's required right across the globe. I doubt there's any challenge the world has faced - even including some of the diplomatic efforts involved in bringing the Second World War to an end or stopping the Cold War - that has challenged the globe as much as this: expanding energy use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So it's a phenomenal public policy requirement. And it will, in fact, only be achieved by not only deploying every technology we currently know of, and that's all of it; you can't join the pro-wind or the anti-wind camp or the pro-PVRP or anti-solar camp, or the pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear, or go around and say geosequestration's not proven, we shouldn't put all our eggs in the geosequestration basket; of course we shouldn't. We need to pursue every viable option available to mankind. All of the existing technologies, we need our policies to be very much technology-neutral, we need our policies to be very much to be driving investment where the best opportunities are for the geographical circumstances of each nation and making sure that we work together internationally; and that is very much why Australia has been an active part from the very formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that is why we have been a very active, constructive participant in all of the technology partnerships, the Methane to Markets program, the geosequestration leadership forum, the hydrogen partnerships, a range of financial partnerships that we have in place with countries like China, Indonesia, New Zealand and a range of others. And that is why we decided to be an active leader in the formation of the Asia-Pacific Clean Development and Climate Change Partnership because we realise that a partnership approach is vital. We don't want or need every country; we, in fact, don't have the luxury of the time on our side to go and reinvent the wheel on every single area of technology. We need to work with partnerships and you can't get a much more substantial partnership than one that is formed with the United States of America - the leading developed economy; China - the most rapidly growing economy, developing economy; India, Japan and Korea.
Mr Chairman, the partnership is something itself that has been welcomed by nations across the globe, the pressure is very much on the partnership nations to make sure that it's substantial, that it delivers. And I'm very optimistic that when you get those economies together, matching some of the biggest developed countries and the biggest developing countries accounting for just under 50 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions of the globe and around 50 per cent of the world's population that the opportunity to grow the co-operation across a range of technologies to see investments from each of those nations directed to some outstanding technology processes, some outstanding research is an opportunity that really should make the whole world quite optimistic about the future. And that's why I think 2005 has been in fact a year of great achievement. It was, I think, a very good idea for the British Prime Minister to convene the pre-G8 meeting in March in London, there was a lot of constructive work, there was a clear-eyed view that the challenge to the world is a lot bigger than people had given themselves; we got away from the two parrots squawking in the cage and we started focusing on where we're going to go in the world, how are we going to bring in the technology that's required, deploy that technology. And can I say that my own strong view, and the view that I'll be taking to Montreal is that we do need this multi-track approach. There's not going to be a one-size-fits all solution to this. We need countries pursuing the comparative advantage in a whole range of different areas. New Zealand for example has a fantastic bounty in wind. They believe New Zealand wind, without any subsidy, can provide a huge percentage of the New Zealand power grid. In other countries they will have their own comparative advantage and then of course we'd need that partnership approach.
We also need all of the work we do to be driven by the best science available and that's why it's a true privilege to be invited by CSIRO to address this conference. I think in Australia with the Australian Greenhouse Office, with CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, to name just three world- leading institutions we have a collaboration which have served Australia very well in the past and will continue to serve us well.
That's why I'm pleased today to launch firstly a publication which tracks the Australian climate change science programme over the past few years ... I'll just get the exact date... the first programme is the Australian ... the first booklet is the Australian Climate Change Science Program: Major achievements 1989-2004 so that summarises the science we've been doing and then I'll release now the Strategic Research Agenda for the next four years. What we want to make sure is that the science and the investment, it's a $30 million programme, that we put into this science programme, really builds on Australia's unique perspective of the world, builds on the science that we've already done, the world leading science for example in the Southern Ocean, and direct our $30 million budget towards those areas of capability that Australia can best invest in for our own benefits in Australian interests, but also to build on gaps in international research. So I commend the objectives; there are five key research components within the program.
They are, firstly, understanding key drivers of climate change in the Australian region - and when you think that the Australian region goes right from the South Pole right up to the tip of Cape York and beyond, out to the east to my little green jewel in the Pacific, Norfolk Island, out to the west to Cocus and Christmas and out to the south west ... just doing a mental sort of circuit around the globe, down to Heard and Macdonald Islands - you recognise that we have under Australia's responsibility (I'd better be careful there because the legal people who understand the Antarctic Treaty would get tetchy if I go too far there), but we do control an enormous percentage of the world's global climate systems. And of course the deep oceans are a part of it where Australia does have leadership in science and I think we can share that with the world.
Secondly, a national climate modelling system. We want to update the Australian national climate modelling system, that's very important work.
Thirdly, climate change, climate variability and extreme events; very important for all of the Australian coast; we're a nation where 85 per cent of us live within 50 kms of the coast, and 25 per cent live within 3 kms of the coast. So we are a nation that is vulnerable to climate change; we are a nation that has a big stake in solving climate change; but also a big stake in adapting to climate change.
Fourthly, regional climate change projections, and fifthly, international research collaboration. So it's a document that I commend to you.
The third document that I release today is a set of Questions and Answers, Climate Change Science-Your Questions Answered, it's a document that when I get approached by climate skeptics I give it to them - which makes them even more skeptical! But can I say that I think it's very important that we have informed debate in Australia. I think the more people who understand the dynamics of climate change, what creates it, what are the pathways to solving it, what are the issues? The more people who know what the facts are, even if they have to argue about the facts, the better public policy will be driven out of that. I'm absolutely certain that with good science, with good research, with good information coming to governments around Australia the policy responses will be improved. I commend the Victorian Government, who I believe are co-sponsors of today's event, or this event, on being the first and only government in Australia to develop a Low Emissions Technology Fund. We have of course one of the centrepieces of the Australian Government's $1.8 billion climate change program, a Low Emissions Technology Fund, to bring forward the technologies we need and seek to deploy them as quickly as possible, this $500 million fund. And I think it would be very much in Australia's interests if each state government developed a matching fund to leverage up the $500 million from the Commonwealth. I commend John Thwaites, I commend Steve Bracks, for showing leadership in developing a Low Emissions Fund here in Victoria. The Greenhouse Office in Canberra and the Victorian Government are working very closely together to make sure the guidelines for the two programs are in fact consistent so proponents will be able to access both funds; that co-operation has been quite excellent.
I do urge, however, the Victorian Government when they're looking at setting up what we're now calling the VRET - the Victorian Renewable Energy Target scheme - that they look very, very closely at the costs of it; and we think it could be well in excess of a billion dollars. That will be an impost on Victorian taxpayers and households and industry. We ask them to look very, very carefully at whether that is the best investment of Victorian taxpayers' money in greenhouse programs. If you don't spend a billion dollars in the environment I've just described, where we have this massive challenge, then I think as governments we owe it to the taxpayers, we owe it to the people of the world to ensure that every single dollar or public sector and private sector investment is directed to the very best public policy solutions. So if you are going to set up some sort of policy as the Renewable Energy Target scheme - and we were the world leaders in that, we invented one called the MRET, and we have a lot of research, a lot of experience in running renewable energy targets schemes, we know that they cost, we also know what their benefits are - and I think the Victorian people would want to know that if they're going to be slugged with potentially a billion dollars in new taxes and power bills that they would love to know that billion dollars is going to go to the very, very best addressing of this historic challenge that we face.
So I hope that's given you some perspective on my thinking and the Commonwealth's thinking at the moment. I've already read some of the contributions to the conference from yesterday's deliberations. I wish you well in your deliberations today and I look forward to a detailed report, Howard, on the various contributions that are made. I look forward to working with all of you on solving what is an historic public policy challenge for Australia and the world.