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A new climate pact that isnít so new

By Ben McNeil - posted Thursday, 25 August 2005

Far from being an “an historic agreement for the cause of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”, as the Prime Minister claims, the “new” climate pact announced at the ASEAN regional forum will serve only to undermine international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The aim of the “Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate” is supposedly to promote the use of clean technology between Australia, the US and developing nations like India and China. But the agreement is merely a weaker version of a mechanism that already exists with the Kyoto Protocol.

The “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) within Kyoto specifically allows developed nations to exchange and invest in clean development technologies within the developing world. Both developed and developing nations have taken huge steps towards implementing and investing in the CDM.


The Indian Government, for example, has published a 187 page national strategy (pdf file 2.24MB) for the implementation of the CDM. The report specifically identifies clean development projects for India that developed nations can invest in, such as renewable energy initiatives. China has similarly highlighted some key projects within the CDM, like wind energy, biomass gasification and technology efficiencies that would involve investment and technology transfer with the developed world.

For climate change, it will be very important to entrain China and India into cutting emissions along with other developing nations, especially Indonesia. The Indonesian population grew from 147 to 215 million people between 1980 and 2001, with energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions growing by 315 per cent and 271 per cent in association with energy intensive industrial growth over that period. With future population growth and economic expansion, it will be paramount to exchange and invest in clean, efficient energy technologies with Indonesia so their development can benefit from the lessons learnt in the developed world.

The benefit of the CDM mechanism within Kyoto is that it incorporates all developing nations rather than just a select few. Back in 2001 Indonesia set out explicit CDM opportunities, which should be fostered and enhanced by the Australian Government in the future. Within the United Nations framework convention on climate change, delegates from nearly 200 nations will meet in November, to specifically discuss how to engage more definite national emission reduction commitments for all developing nations beyond the Kyoto timeline (2010-2012).

If Kyoto already promotes the exchange and transfer of clean development to China or India (or any developing nation), then what is the benefit of this new climate pact? Australia and the US are extremely isolated on the international stage by not ratifying Kyoto. Its international ratification earlier in the year was a blow to their anti-Kyoto position. With this new climate pact they can be seen as at least “doing” something on climate change, despite the rest of the developed world doing much more.

The new climate pact sets no targets and is therefore a weak commitment to climate change. Setting no targets means there is no benchmark for success or failure.

As business knows, setting targets is important for ensuring commitment. The US-based Pew Centre on Global Climate Change has set up a program known as Businesses Leading the Way Program, which has enlisted about 40 of the world’s largest corporations such as Rio Tinto, BP, General Electric and Dupont. Each company has set various emission reduction targets to be achieved by 2010. For example, Dupont committed a massive emission reduction of 65 per cent of 1990 levels by 2010. When the company achieves this target, a little tick is put next to their name. By 2002, eight years before needing to, Dupont had a big tick next to its name.


Closer to home Rio Tinto has committed and already reduced on-site greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production by 5 per cent from 1990 levels by 2001. They also want to make a group wide energy efficiency target of 5 per cent by the year 2008. Very simply this makes economic and environmental sense resulting in another big tick next to its name.

There are a large number of corporations and businesses signing up to commit to reduction targets because it gives them something to work towards. The Howard Government should follow the lead of the business community and set emission reduction targets, whether these targets are set within this new climate pact or whether achieved by ratifying Kyoto. Not setting targets keeps the government unaccountable and the end result is a big cross next to their name when it comes to climate change.

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This is a longer version of an article first published in The Canberra Times on August 6, 2005.

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About the Author

Dr Ben McNeil is a climate scientist and economist from the University of NSW and author of The Clean Industrial Revolution: Growing Australian Prosperity in a Greenhouse Age.

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