Carbon Blackmail Doesn't Lead to Greener Future

Hugh Morgan

[This is an unabridged version of an article which first appeared in The Australian, 10 June 2002]

During Question Time on June 5 last, Prime Minister John Howard made a clear statement about the Kyoto Protocol.

It is not in Australia's interests to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.... For us to ratify the Protocol would cost us jobs and damage our industry.... The Australian national interest does not lie in ratifying Kyoto: that is why we are opposed to it.

In his statement, the PM hammered home the job losses which would follow from the relocation of energy intensive industries to countries which are not obliged to reduce CO2 emissions. But there are other, equally serious, issues which are buried within the Kyoto Protocol, and which have not received sufficient attention from the Government, the Opposition, or the media.

The most serious is the transfer, under the terms of the Protocol, of powers of enforcement, compliance and taxation, to an international bureaucracy based in Bonn; a bureaucracy which will be totally unaccountable to the Australian people. It is proposed that the Kyoto Secretariat will have wide-ranging powers of inspection and enforcement, including the power to impose new carbon taxes on countries which, in their assessment, fail to meet their Kyoto commitments. Such a proposal is unprecedented in Australian history.

In theory, Australia could withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol if the economic sacrifices demanded of us by other countries became too great to bear. But it is the explicit ambition of the EU to change international law and practice so that such recalcitrance could be met with trade sanctions which would effectively cut us off from many of our export markets. Australia would then be powerless to recover the sovereignty which had been de facto yielded up with ratification of Kyoto. It is forgotten that in the lead-up to the Kyoto Conference in December 1997, Australia was threatened by many commentators with trade sanctions, if we refused to agree to what was an open-ended commitment to the de-carbonisation of our economy.

The science underlying the Kyoto Protocol has, likewise, not received sufficient attention. One important element in the science debate is the complete inconsequentiality of any contribution which Australia's fulfilment of the Kyoto targets would make to global temperatures. On 13 Nov 2000, on ABC TV, Dr Graham Pearman, Head of the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, and an outspoken supporter of the greenhouse theory, said,

The reality of the Protocol as it is at the moment is that even if all of the nations were able to achieve those targets it would hardly make any difference.

Australia is being asked to accept significant economic dislocation, as predicted in AGO publications, for no discernible difference to the climate outcome.

Of even greater concern is the refusal of the scientific supporters of greenhouse to explain why it is that the satellite temperature data, now extant since 1979, show no temperature rise in the lower troposphere, precisely where greenhouse theory requires temperature increases to be first manifest. Since 1979, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by approximately 10 per cent and if global temperatures are so sensitive to CO2 concentrations, some response should surely be evident by now.

The earth's climate has changed dramatically in the past, and will doubtless change just as dramatically in the future. To attribute every current variation in this or that climatic parameter to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is simply unreasonable.

Australia has some important and expensive environmental problems to tackle. Growing salinity and water management are arguably the most serious problems which we will have to resolve. Both will require very large expenditures of taxpayers' funds to do so, and those funds will only be available if Australia has a prosperous and growing economy. Australia's present prosperity is, in large part, based on our exports of energy-intensive products.

ABARE calculations suggest that the increase in the price of electricity which will be required to meet the Kyoto commitment will be of the order of 50 per cent. The consequence of that would be economic dislocation, rising unemployment, and political upheaval consequent upon serious increases in household energy costs.

Australian industry, and our mining industry in particular, is committed to implement best environmental practice. But it cannot do so if a major source of international competitiveness, low-cost energy, is negated. And negated for no good reason. The Prime Minister has made the right call on Kyoto.

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