The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
 FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

Speech at the Major Economies Meeting

27 September 2007

Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of Australia, I am pleased to participate in this very welcome initiative of the United States, which will seek agreement on a detailed contribution to a post-2012 global arrangement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Climate change is a large, complex and serious global challenge. Of all the inhabited continents, Australia already has the driest and most variable climate. Climate change means our water security problems will likely intensify. Our great and unique natural ecosystems, like the Great Barrier Reef, are potentially threatened and many of our major industries, not least agriculture, are highly sensitive to changes in the climate.

The Australian Government recognises that Australia, like every country, has a responsibility to control and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over time. We will do it in a practical and balanced way, in full knowledge of the economic consequences for our nation. As a great supplier of food and resources to the world, Australia's response to climate change must reflect our unique economic strengths and vulnerabilities.

Australia is committed to managing its emissions on a long-term basis. This is demonstrated by the many polices and measures outlined in our matrix for this session.

Australian action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 will prevent about 87 million tonnes of carbon a year entering the atmosphere by 2010. That's a massive reduction for our economy and a tangible example of our commitment to the climate change challenge. I am pleased to say that Australia is tracking well towards its target of 108 per cent of 1990 emissions by 2008-2012.

Madam Chair,

Australia took a landmark decision recently.

Australia will introduce a 'cap and trade' emissions trading system with the aim of it commencing by 2011. As part of this decision, Australia will set a long term aspirational goal for reducing national greenhouse gas emissions in 2008.

The emissions trading system will be the primary mechanism for achieving our long term emissions goal. It will feature an emissions trajectory thatcommences moderately below 'business as usual', but which progressively stabilises and then allows for deeper emissions reductions over time.

In setting Australia's future emissions trajectory, and in addition to our unique national circumstances, we will take into account any developments around a consensus on a global emissions reduction goal.

Of course, an emissions trading scheme is only one part of a comprehensive response to climate change. Support for cleaner technologies, including through the Asia-Pacific Partnership, will continue to form a major part of Australia's ongoing response to climate change.

Much of the $3.5 billion that Australia has already committed to addressing climate change has focused on supporting low emission technologies. These include the world's largest and most efficient photovoltaic solar power station and the Gorgon CO2 Injection project in North Western Australia, which will be the largest geosequestration project in the world.

While cleaner technologies must ultimately meet the test of the market, there is a role for governments to support their research, development and demonstration. As part of our commitment to supporting low emission sources, Australia will introduce a new national Clean Energy Target, requiring that 30,000 gigawatt hours each year, additional to existing renewable energy production, come from low emissions sources by 2020. This represents at least 15 per cent of Australia's electricity consumption.

As a major producer and exporter of energy, Australia has a crucial role to play regarding energy security. We are the world's largest exporter of coal, a leading provider of gas and have the world's largest uranium resources. Our view is that the best way for consumers to be guaranteed a stable supply of energy is to have efficient, transparent markets.

Madam Chair,

The economies in this room represent over 90 per cent of world emissions of greenhouse gases. If we are to slow, stop and then reverse the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions, then it is incumbent on our economies to lead.

Naturally, we all recognise that meeting energy needs and reducing poverty, while addressing climate change, represents a major challenge. And each of us comes to the table with different perspectives, reflecting both our diversity and our strengths. The recent Sydney Declaration of APEC Leaders, including eight economies here today, shows that collective progress is possible.

The APEC Leaders agreed towork to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal. The Leaders also agreed on the need for all nations, no matter what their stage of development, to contribute according to their own capacities and their own circumstances to reducing greenhouse gases.

Madam Chair,

A truly successful post-2012 global arrangement demands that all major economies act to mitigate climate change. Australia will actively contribute towards that solution, including through the work of this process.

Thank you.