Kyoto Recalcitrants Unite
- Great title. The concluding paragraph ain't bad either:
"... Not only did Australia have its hottest year on record, the
planet had its second hottest, behind 1998. More permafrost in
Siberia thawed, releasing methane as well as enormous quantities of
water. Arctic and Antarctic ice continued to melt and the "conveyor
belt" that ferries climate-tempering water around the globe showed
signs of slowing. If it stops, the climate-change horror film The Day
After Tomorrow will be more science fact than fiction..."
from: "The Australian" (Australia)
Kyoto recalcitrants unite
Steve Lewis, political reporter, and Leigh Dayton, science writer
WHEN the world's most powerful woman, Condoleezza Rice, flies into
Sydney midweek, she will join a raft of business and political
heavyweights trying to resolve arguably the most pressing issue
facing the world.
With exquisite timing, the US Secretary of State, accompanied by an
entourage of heavyweights including US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman
and presidential adviser James Connaugh, will arrive as the top-
billing attendee at the first Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean
Development and Climate, also known as AP6, just as Australia has
recorded its hottest year on record.
This six-nation, two-day talkfest brings together some of the world's
most advanced economies and some of its biggest polluters. The big
six - the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China and India - are
responsible for about 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, energy
consumption, gross domestic product and population. China and India,
on their own, produce more than 20 per cent of the gases believed to
warm the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide and methane. It's
little wonder, then, that the six have forged a new climate pact.
They're determined to go "beyond Kyoto" and to work on technical ways
to curb the alarming growth in greenhouse gases. Think carbon capture
(geosequestration), so-called "clean coal" and possibly even a new
generation of nuclear power.
As Australia's east coast recovers from one of the hottest and driest
Christmas periods on record, the six-nation summit will steer a path
away from imposing mandatory targets on business and energy vehicles.
After all, Australia and the US have determinedly resisted calls to
ratify the Kyoto protocol, arguing that the target 5.2 per cent cut
in 1990 levels of greenhouse gases it imposes on signatories, with a
special target for Australia allowing it to increase emissions to 108
per cent of 1990 levels, would put unreasonable constraints on the
two countries' economies.
Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell is hardly a climate change
denier, but he reflects the distaste the US and Australia have for
the Kyoto agreement. It's a non-issue, he said last month after
returning from an international climate conference in
Montreal. "Signing Kyoto is like catching the 3pm train from
[Sydney's] Central station when it's five o'clock," he scoffs.
Although a bevy of scientific and political voices have latched on to
recent data confirming 2005 as a scorcher, arguing that it is time
the Howard Government takes more seriously its commitment to climate
change, this new Asia-Pacific pact is not interested in binding
targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, GeorgeW. Bush talks of "voluntary practical measures ... to
create new investment opportunities, build local capacity and remove
barriers to the introduction of clean, more efficient technologies".
John Howard, who will break his holiday to speak at the climate
change summit, is a paid-up member of this voluntary, technology-led
club that has turned its back on Kyoto and its Europe-led cheer
squad. With the Australian economy heavily reliant on the export of
minerals - coal exports to China in 2004, for instance, were worth
$400 million, twice the value of just two years earlier - the
Government has been criticised by many for not doing enough to tackle
the challenge of global warming. Critics say this Government has
adopted at best a tokenistic attitude towards promotion of eco-
friendly alternative renewable energies, such as wind and solar.
Campbell, who will also break his summer holidays to attend the
Sydney talkfest, argues that without strong economic conditions,
governments will be unable to make the necessary investments to
tackle the scourge of greenhouse. "The whole underpinning [of
Australia's approach] is a strong philosophy that we need economic
growth, but with reduced greenhouse gas emissions," he tells
Inquirer. "From an environment minister's point of view, we need
governments that are in the black."
Critics of this neo-classical approach, such as Greens' leader and
long-time eco-warrior Senator Bob Brown, believe Australia and the US
are adopting a head-in-the-sand approach which is out of step with
most other developed economies. They claim that whether or not
Australia ratifies Kyoto, it will pay the price for climate change,
either through the cost of mitigating its impact or as pro-Kyoto
trading partners establish domestic policies that disadvantage non-
Brown argues that Australia is missing out on money-making
opportunities under Kyoto, citing Britain's investment in a gas-
powered power station in China, as an example of how countries are
securing tangible benefits from the pact that Australia refuses to
endorse. Just don't try that argument with the Prime Minister. The
man who has invested more energy into cementing Australia's alliance
with the US than any other recent political figure is a firm advocate
of the "voluntary" approach of AP6 members.
With Australia largely relying on its abundance of fossil fuels to
power its energy needs - and underpin its economic success - Howard
sees no reason to change radically the emphasis on developing ways to
generate power more cleanly, using coal.
"I have never seen the logic of Australia unreasonably penalising
herself by saying in effect we're going to try to move away from the
use of fuels in which Australia has a natural advantage," he said in
July, when the AP6 was first announced.
With such commercial imperatives driving the environmental debate, it
is little wonder the Government is talking up the business
opportunities from the two-day Sydney summit. It will bring together
a raft of high-level corporate figures, the strongest line-up of
energy powerbrokers ever to assemble in Australia.
Significant offshore players - American Electric Power, NEC
Corporation, China Huaneng Group, Korea East-West Power Corp and the
Steel Authority of India, to name but a few - will join Australian
representatives including chief executive of Xstrata Coal, Peter
Coates, managing director of Chevron Australia, Jay Johnson, the boss
of BP Solar, Mark Twidell and chief executive of Rio Tinto Aluminium
The head of the Asian Development Bank will also jet into Sydney,
underscoring the commercial potential of this inaugural event.
In Australia, the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, which
represents carbon-intensive industries such as electricity,
petroleum, aluminium and coal, sees the gathering as a practical way
of persuading the sector to invest in change.
"I'm expecting that this extraordinarily high-level meeting will be
recognised as the start of a genuine effort to tackle climate change
and pollution reduction by focusing on the technologies that need to
be developed," network head John Daley says.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane says the commercial spin-offs could
be significant and long-term. "I'm out there to get a business
outcome," he says, while cautioning against being "overly ambitious".
But with such a strong corporate line-up, Macfarlane believes this
first AP6 meeting will lay down important markers for the future.
"How are we going to share this technology? How do you use the
horsepower of business? How do you set out a work plan for the next
12 months?" he says.
Climate scientists hope the answers are forthcoming in time. They
worry that the planet is dangerously close to the "tipping point",
beyond which global warming will be impossible to stop. The hot
topics in climate research this year were just that, they say,
ticking off alarming news.
Not only did Australia have its hottest year on record, the planet
had its second hottest, behind 1998. More permafrost in Siberia
thawed, releasing methane as well as enormous quantities of water.
Arctic and Antarctic ice continued to melt and the "conveyor belt"
that ferries climate-tempering water around the globe showed signs of
slowing. If it stops, the climate-change horror film The Day After
Tomorrow will be more science fact than fiction.