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Australia ratifies the Kyoto Protocol - and implements it how, exactly?

By John Daly - posted Thursday, 15 August 2002

"Global Warming" is either the biggest beat-up in history or is a catastrophe waiting to happen - both points of view are widely promoted. Although I have written extensively as a skeptic of the global warming predictions, and maintain a well-visited website to present evidence to that effect, my remarks here are directed to the practical issues involved in greenhouse gas reduction, should that objective be embraced by governments and the Australian community.

Under the Kyoto Protocol signed in December 1997, Australia promised to hold our greenhouse gas emissions to no more than an 8 per cent increase on 1990 levels by 2008-12. Since that initial signing, our emissions are already well past that 8 per cent mark and still rising, which means the original promise was hasty and ill thought out. Since then, the protocol has not been ratified by Australia, largely because the United States also refuses to ratify, citing the inadequacies of the science, the non-participation by developing countries, and the enormous economic cost of putting healthy developed economies into 'crash stop' mode in order to achieve the emission cuts.

To sign a binding contract without first having determined the means by which the contract could be fulfilled is the height of folly. As with private contracts, so with international treaties and protocols. The question is therefore: does Australia have the means by which its target could be met in less than ten years, and do so without massive damage to our economic wellbeing?


I would suggest not. Consider the following possible policy options:

1) Reduce emissions by forcing arbitrary cuts on power stations, industrial plants, transport, domestic and industrial power users. The consequence of such arbitrary action would be power outages at the worst possible times, industrial plant closures, increasing unemployment, the growth of a police state to enforce it all on an increasingly restless public, and the export of whole industries to developing countries not bound by the protocol. It takes no leap of imagination to see what would happen at the next federal election following such draconian action.

2) Cut emissions by replacing our power mix with nuclear power. This is an option being used by the Europeans to meet their Kyoto targets, and allows them to escape the worst economic effects of reducing fossil fuel usage. But do we want nuclear power in Australia? This option would not be supported by public opinion - just look at the political problems with upgrading one small reactor at Lucas Heights. The Southern Hemisphere is relatively `nuclear free', and there would be little public support for violating that enviable status. Most people would prefer a warmer world to an irradiated one, even if the warming were proven to be real and significant.

3) Switch to 'renewables'. This makes for a great cliché and slogan for street demonstrations, but where exactly are all these renewables?

Wind power? The one development which could make the surplus of coastal wind in Tasmania available to the mainland states - Basslink - is also bitterly opposed by the Greens. Wind power itself is inefficient, unreliable, and dependent on large subsidies. They are a blight on the landscape, spoil coastal views, and are notorious bird killers.

Hydro power? The Greens have bitterly opposed all hydro development in the past, even to the extent of campaigning to reverse existing hydro developments. In other words they would roll back what little genuine renewable energy we do have.


Solar Power? 'Solar Not Nuclear' goes the happy slogan on car stickers, but again we have a worn-out cliché standing in for policy. Solar power suffers from all the problems of wind power, with the added problem of storage and transmission. To take advantage of our deserts for solar power, the country would have to be criss-crossed by high voltage transmission lines. But look what happened when Basslink required such a line in Gippsland - it caused an outcry from the Greens and residents. Burying such cables underground results in massive energy loss and makes long-distance transmission unviable.

In effect, every practical option for achieving the emission cuts is bitterly opposed by the Greens or by public opinion, or both. That leaves only the arbitrary approach, which although favoured by the Greens for ideological reasons of their own, would cause a public backlash on a scale to make the GST debate look like happy hour at the pub.

If the Greens were serious about the dangers of climate change, they would be less hostile to practical alternatives such as further development of hydro power, Basslink, nuclear power, tidal power, overhead transmission lines, and be less contemptuous of technological 'fixes' such as the development of the hydrogen propelled Scramjet, or fuel cell technology. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot on the one hand point to climate change as the most serious challenge facing society and then on the other hand set out to uncompromisingly wreck each and every proposal that would seriously address the issue without driving our economy over a cliff. Serious politics is about making the necessary trade-offs to achieve an optimal outcome, and the Greens have yet to mature sufficiently to see beyond slogans and clichés.

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About the Author

John L. Daly is author The Greenhouse Trap and numerous articles, submissions and papers concerning the Greenhouse effect.

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