Climate change to the fore

Participants in a climate change conference in Perth this month heard that many developed nations were unlikely to be able to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets as agreed in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Addressing the theme – Costs and Benefits of Ratifying the Kyoto Agreement – speakers outlined the implications for European Union countries, Canada, and Australia, and advocated more informed global analysis of all issues.

European Union nations would have a difficult time meeting the 2012 emissions targets, International Council for Capital Formation managing director Margo Thorning said, even those currently on track.

Data forecasting the costs per metric tonne of purchasing carbon emission permits, reveals Germany’s gross domestic product could drop by almost four per cent, in trying to achieve its Kyoto target.

Governments, in private, were acutely aware of economic and political difficulties in meeting a shorter term target, Dr Thorning said, and publicly were now beginning to talk of strategies for longer timeframes.

The UK last month issued a white paper targeting a 60 per cent decrease in emissions, on 1990 levels, by 2050, and Germany has a 40 per cent reduction target by 2020.

But without retaining its use of nuclear power, Germany was likely to have little chance of even reaching its 2020 target, Dr Thorning said.

Industry shutdowns and energy price hikes would be necessary for most developed nations to meet targets, but at a level which would be politically unpalatable.

On this basis alone, Kyoto was not a good framework for addressing climate change, Dr Thorning concluded.

Rather, technological advances to reduce the intensity of energy use, sequestration policies, greater use of nuclear energy, and enhanced cooperation with developing nations, could combine to provide a long-term solution.

Ken Fraser, chief scientist in the Fraser Institute’s Risk and Environment Policy Centre, outlined the situation for Canada, a nation of high energy use, attributable in a large part to long travel routes and a cold climate.

Canada, which ratified the Kyoto Protocol in December 2003, emits two per cent of total greenhouse gases.

Dr Fraser said there was evidence to show Canada, also, would not be able to comply with its Kyoto target, and at least some Government members knew this.

The decision to sign was political, Dr Fraser suggested, and failure was ‘in-built‘.

Economic studies have estimated that Canada would have to pay dearly to achieve its 2012 emissions target.

Economic productivity would decrease by three per cent, incomes would drop permanently by four per cent from what they otherwise would have been post-2010, electricity prices would need to rise 80 per cent, gas prices by up to 90 per cent, and gasoline prices by 50 per cent.

Alan Moran, Institute of Public Affairs director, deregulation unit, looked at renewable energy sources in relation to climate change.

However, he concluded, while wind power was the most prospective form of alternative power, and costs had fallen significantly, it was not the solution to decreasing carbon emissions on a global scale.

Looking ahead, wind generation costs were unlikely to fall faster than those for other energy sources, Dr Moran said.

Agreeing with other speakers regarding a broader approach, over a longer timeframe, Dr Moran said: "Wind cannot be a solution, even a high cost solution, to replacing fossil fuels in modern economics."

Brian O’Brien, of the Office of Environment, challenged what he labelled a confused scientific premise to the Kyoto Protocol.

Some projections, based on data interpreted against a backdrop of differing models and fundamental definitions, "did not pass the smell test", Dr O’Brien said.

Australia has hesitated in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, but the Federal Government has established a greenhouse office.

The WA Government has established a greenhouse taskforce.

The taskforce, under the direction of the secretary for the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, is now considering public submissions on its greenhouse issues paper.

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