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On 4 January 2006 the Australia Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that 2005 was Australia's hottest year on record. They concluded, "The 2005 record is yet another sign that our climate is changing." In Sydney on January 11-12, the Australian Government along with representatives of the governments of the USA, Japan, China, Korea and India will meet in Sydney to discuss the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (the Climate Partnership).
ACF would welcome an initiative that leads to a reduction in greenhouse pollution and promotes the immediate use and long-term development of safe, clean energy technology. Whether the Climate Partnership agreement is successful will depend on three tests.
Test 1: Emissions are going down not up
Australia, Japan and the United States commit to reducing greenhouse pollution by 15-30% by 2020 and 60-90% by 2050. Reductions should be below 1990 levels.
As rich and high-polluting nations Australia, the US and Japan have a responsibility and the means to reduce their pollution at home by encouraging investment in a wide range of technologies. For example, on average, every Australian pollutes seven times more and earns six times as much as someone in China. (See Attached Fact File 1: Per Capita Profile of Climate Partnership Countries.) In addition, over the last 150 years these nations have collectively released about 35% of the world's greenhouse pollution. China, India and South Korea have only contributed around 10%. (See Attached ACF Fact File 2: Historic Contribution and Vulnerability to Climate Change.)
Australia's current approach to climate change is failing. By 2020, Australia's greenhouse pollution is projected to be more than 20% above 1990 levels. According to experts, developed nations need to have reduced pollution by 15-30% by 2020 and 60-90% by 2050 if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Targets of this magnitude have already been agreed by some of the state governments of Australia and the US.
Australia's increasing emissions are being driven by a projected 60% increase in pollution from the nation's use of coal, oil and gas. In comparison to other developed nations in the Climate Partnership, Australia's energy sector pollution is increasing the fastest. In contrast, Japan's response to the Kyoto Protocol is projected to result in energy sector pollution falling by 2010. (See Attached ACF Fact File 3: Energy Sector Pollution.)
Test 2: Turning on clean energy
The Partnership drives immediate large-scale public and private investment in the use of safe clean energy in all countries.
The use of clean energy technology will be critical to achieving large reductions in greenhouse pollution. However, there is no silver bullet and no single technology can solve the climate change problem. (See Attached ACF Fact File 3: Energy Sector Pollution.)
If the Climate Partnership agrees to deploy existing and new clean energy technologies, large scale reductions in greenhouse pollution can be achieved. China has already set a target to increase renewable energy use to 15% by 2020. It is crucial that the Climate Partnership drive further increases in clean energy use within the region, and aim to ensure clean energy contributes 20% of the region's energy mix by 2020. Australia currently has the most polluting electricity system of all the Partnership countries, and with no further action from the government, the proportion of electricity Australians receive from renewable energy is expected to decline by 3% over the next 15 years. (See Attached ACF Fact File 3: Energy Sector Pollution.)
Critically, with no clear price or investment signal from governments, companies will not be able to justify to their boards or investors the necessary up-front investment in clean energy technologies. Analysts have indicated that in order for companies to invest in gas instead of coal, a price on greenhouse pollution of around $15-20 per tonne of pollution is needed. For wind the number is currently around $40 (but expected to fall), and geosequestration is projected to be around $30-95 per tonne. In order to ensure the rapid uptake of low emissions technology, the Australian Government should put a price on greenhouse pollution through a national emissions trading scheme by 2008.
The government's Low Emission Technology Demonstration Fund aims to encourage industry to invest $1 billion in the demonstration of new technology - a worthy policy. However, this is just 1/30th the amount that is expected to be invested in Australia's existing energy system over the next 15 years. Unless the government uses price and investment signals to encourage industry to reduce pollution, this $30 billion investment will be in polluting energy infrastructure and will lead to a major increase in Australia's greenhouse pollution.
Nuclear technology must be excluded from the agreement. Nuclear power is unnecessary, too dirty, too dangerous and too slow to make a significant contribution to tackling climate change. (See www.acfonline.org.au for climate change and nuclear power briefings.)
Test 3: The Regional Climate Partnership vs Global Kyoto?
All Climate Partnership countries should ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Just last month in Montreal, the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol - 157 countries including China, India, Japan and South Korea - unanimously adopted the final rules for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to kick-start discussions for stronger actions to cut greenhouse pollution beyond 2012. Australia and the USA remain outside Kyoto and the emerging global carbon market.
The Kyoto Protocol is a global agreement that includes mechanisms to drive the transfer of technology by establishing pollution-reduction targets, encouraging investment in clean energy technology and encouraging developed countries to undertake projects in developing countries (through the Clean Development Mechanism). Since Kyoto became international law last February, the number of proposed pollution reduction projects in developing countries financed through the Clean Development Mechanism tripled, and late last year, two private Chinese chemical firms and the World Bank launched the world's biggest single project to cut greenhouse pollution through the Kyoto Protocol.
The agreed vision of the Climate Partnership states the Partnership should "complement, but not replace, the Kyoto Protocol". However, Australian government ministers have attempted to portray this non-binding agreement as a substitute to the Kyoto Protocol. For the new Climate Partnership to work , and for it to be a real complement to the Kyoto process, all countries in the partnership must ratify the Kyoto Protocol and take a constructive role in the next stage of Kyoto negotiations.