Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts logo
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts home page

Archived media releases and speeches


Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.


15 September 1997

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

Mr Chairman, representatives of the climate science community from both Australia and abroad, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It's a great pleasure to be here today to open your workshop.

As we approach the vital meeting in Kyoto this December between parties to the U.N Framework Convention, it is perhaps not surprising that climate change headlines have focussed on possible target years and reduction percentages that might form part of an agreement.

However, a less well understood, but nevertheless important, `sub-plot' is quietly proceeding at workshops such as this. Without this effort to refine and agree on inventory assessment methods, governments meeting in Kyoto would be unable to address climate change -- they would be completely unable to properly quantify targets or monitor performance.

One of the great difficulties in dealing with climate change is how to reduce the substantial degree of uncertainty associated with estimating emissions. Most of the uncertainty we hear about relates to the precise impacts of climate change over time -- however, less attention is given to uncertainties about the contributors to climate change

And these uncertainties are significant -- the link between fossil fuel combustion, carbon-dioxide, and global warming is easy for people to digest, but as you all know, there are many other vital ingredients in the recipe for climate change.

Away from the energy and industrial sectors, we may have a reasonable understanding of the biological processes taking place, but in many cases we are still unable to accurately measure the precise magnitude of numerous greenhouse sources and sinks.

Unless careful consideration is given to these uncertainties, it will be difficult for nations to assess their current and projected emissions in a comprehensive and accurate fashion. And national inventory compilation is even harder for countries which face a high degree of uncertainty in major sectors. Australia is such a country -- and so for this reason, we are doubly supportive of your efforts.

Biomass Burning, Forestry and Land Use Change -- Key Areas of Uncertainty:

The sectors before this workshop -- Biomass Burning, Land Use Change and Forestry account for most of the uncertainty in national greenhouse gas inventories. Such uncertainties are stumbling blocks to international acceptance of some important emission and sequestration estimates. Some of these issues will be addressed by this meeting -- For example:

By continually updating and refining our knowledge about these and other uncertainties, and by establishing agreed guidelines for their treatment in national greenhouse inventories, workshops like this are reinforcing the scientific foundations for any plan which might emerge from Kyoto.

Whilst seeking agreement in Kyoto, Australia's preference is that any agreement should be comprehensive in its approach to all greenhouse sources and sinks. We take this position not just because it is in Australia's interests, but because it is also in the global interest.

Why Comprehensive Greenhouse Assessment is in the Global Interest:

First, it is in the global interest to have a climate change response which is environmentally effective. In order for that to happen, it must be as comprehensive as practicable, and reduce greenhouse emissions on every possible front, not just a few -- we need to address all gases, sources and sinks from all sectors of human activity.

By excluding selected greenhouse gases, or excluding selected sources and sinks from global response agreements, countries would not receive any recognition for emission reduction achieved in these areas. As a result, there would be no incentive to reduce emissions from these sources, even if it is cost-effective to do so.

Under such circumstances, countries might succeed in meeting official emission reduction targets for prescribed emission sources, only to find any environmental gain offset by emission increases from sources excluded from the agreement.

So, merely achieving agreed emission targets does not ensure a good environmental outcome, unless the targets are based on a comprehensive approach.

Equity is another important consideration, and another reason why a comprehensive approach is imperative.

There is no question that by concentrating on certain sources and sinks, bias and unfairness would be embedded into any response framework. It would distort the economic sacrifices required of each nation to meet targets and close off some cost-effective options.

Conversely, such an arrangement would enable countries with an edge in emission abatement with respect to accredited sources and sinks to take economic advantage of other countries.

Establishing a framework as comprehensive as possible maximises the options available to individual countries and this enables them to take the most cost-effective path. It makes targets and timetables more achievable and realistic for all participants not just those with advantages in the most prominent gases, sources and sinks.

If we can reach agreement on the treatment of all aspects of greenhouse inventories, it will assist nations to assess and present the real nature of their emissions performance, and allow countries to have confidence in their own inventories as well as those of other countries. This is a particularly important consideration in the context of negotiations on legally binding targets.

It is clearly in the global interest to move as far as we possibly can beyond the simple CO2/Fuel combustion paradigm.

Aside from making good sense internationally, a comprehensive approach is particularly important for Australia.

Why Comprehensive Greenhouse Assessment is in Australia's Interest:

We have for some time maintained that the high energy-intensity of Australia's economy and its exports puts Australia at a disadvantage relative to other OECD nations, and the acceleration in Energy sector emissions reflected in the 1995 Inventory confirms this problem.

However, Australia is also different from most other OECD nations in another important respect: we have comparatively large scope for increasing our greenhouse sinks. While many developing nations are in a similar position, most industrialised nations are not.

Australia's forests already act as a significant greenhouse sink. With further improvements in our forest management, and the implementation of Bushcare - the National Vegetation Initiative, we expect that by 2010, this sector will reduce our national emissions by some 30 million tonnes on an annual basis.1

Should we be successful in reducing the rate of land clearance in Australia, emissions resulting from this activity will fall. Indications are that most of the current land-clearing in Australia is happening in Queensland, hence there is a real opportunity here to make a positive contribution to the national greenhouse effort.

So, while we have a difficult task in the Energy sector, particularly stationary energy sources and transport, Land Use Change and Forestry present some real opportunities

However, should the nations of the world agree to exclude all sources and sinks except for CO2 from energy combustion, Australia would receive no benefit from Land Use Change and Forestry. Instead, we would be forced to pursue difficult measures in our least cost-effective sector.

It would make an already difficult task for Australia even harder.

It is not just important for Australia -- It is also very important for developing countries -- many of whom are in a similar position with respect to these non-industrial sectors. Excluding these sources and sinks will only make it harder to engage developing nations in the global effort.

So, we will continue to do all we can to reduce the scientific uncertainties associated with these sectors, and to ensure that a comprehensive approach is part of a Kyoto agreement.


In conclusion, as the high-level negotiations leading up to Kyoto continue apace, IPCC workshops like this are also helping to move the global climate change response forward.

Any agreement in Kyoto must take full account of the complexity of the environmental problem confronting us -- overly simplistic solutions which fail this test are no solution at all.

Your work helps to ensure that the world's policy negotiators appreciate the myriad factors contributing to the climate change. You help ensure that the political solution is not de-coupled from the environmental problem.

You also help ensure transparency and credibility in national inventories and reporting. I am therefore very pleased to be with you to open your workshop and I wish you well in your deliberations.

1 EPG advises that forests account for a 21.1 Mt sink in 1995 & that expected increases in commercial plantations could almost double this amount

Commonwealth of Australia