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Promoting sustainabiity

By Ted Christie - posted Thursday, 7 January 2010

Uncertainty following the weaker-than-expected outcome at Copenhagen, together with the defeat of the CPRS Bill in the Senate, should facilitate - not inhibit - new and alternative solutions that advance a better and more easily understood case for combating climate change.

Constructive debate on solutions to combat climate change should be based on a full understanding of our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and linked to key unifying principles for environmental management and conflict resolution.

The ETS is by far the most common approach proposed or undertaken, globally, in order to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to combat climate change. But, under the Kyoto Protocol, countries must meet their targets to reduce GHG emissions, primarily, through “National Measures”. The Kyoto Protocol also offers countries “Additional Means” for meeting their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms e.g. an ETS.


There is a very significant requirement in the Kyoto Protocol. “National Measures” are required “to promote sustainable development”. During the Hawke-Keating era, Australia led the world by developing an innovative national environmental policy for sustainable development which was followed by its subsequent incorporation into domestic environmental protection legislation.

Surprisingly, evaluating a mix of “National Measures” to reduce GHG emissions, while still promoting sustainability, has received little systematic evaluation, globally.

The special features that distinguish a sustainable solution include:

  • conserving and enhancing the resource base;
  • meeting essential needs for jobs, food, energy, water and sanitation;
  • maintaining or enhancing international competitiveness in an environmentally sound manner;
  • reorienting technology and managing risk; and
  • developing a strong, growing and diversified economy which can enhance the capacity for environmental protection.

The ETS persists as a volatile issue in Australia because of the uncertainty of it being on a collision course with socio-economic concerns; and also whether the ETS is consistent with sustainable development.

The ETS is essentially an “economic fix” for the global environmental problem of climate change; it has an inordinate focus on economics. In contrast, a sustainable solution for an environmental problem has the potential to avoid the disadvantages of the ETS through a systematic evaluation and balancing of multiple and competing objectives - ecological, economic, social and cultural: in doing so, a sustainable solution secures as much available value as possible for government, industry and the community.


The “National Measures” to reduce or to limit GHG emissions and that promote sustainable development are placed in a number of separate categories in the Kyoto Protocol.

“Enhancing energy efficiency in relevant sectors of the national economy” is the first such category for “National Measures”. Regulatory control of CO2 emissions, as a “National Measure” for enhancing energy efficiency was announced by the EPA (USA) at the opening of the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009. It is based on a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court.

In April 2007, the US Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v EPA, ruled that the GHG that cause climate change are “air pollutants”, as this term is defined under the US Clean Air Act; and that the Federal EPA may regulate their emission.

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For further information from the author see here: Sustainability: A Pathway for Balancing Carbon Dioxide Emission Reductions and the Protection of Jobs and Economic Activity (PDF 399KB).

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About the Author

Dr Ted Christie is an environmental lawyer, mediator and ecologist specializing in resolving environmental conflicts by negotiation and is the author of the cross-disciplinary (law/science/ADR) book, Finding Solutions for Environmental Conflicts: Power and Negotiation (Edward Elgar Cheltenham, UK). Ted Christie was awarded a Centenary Medal for services to the community related to education and the law. He was the Principal Adviser to Tony Fitzgerald QC in the “Fraser Island Commission of Inquiry” and a Commissioner in the “Shoalwater Bay Commission of Inquiry”.

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