There is no limit to the Howard Government’s chutzpah on climate
change. After years of attempting, with some success, to water down the
Kyoto Protocol it has recently taken to attacking it for not going far
enough. And while saying ratification of the Protocol would cause
enormous economic damage to Australia, it also claims that we will meet
our target anyway!

The Asia Pacific Partnership is an initiative by the Bush
Administration and the Howard Government to deflect escalating
international hostility at their refusal to play a role in global
efforts to tackle the biggest challenge facing humanity in the 21st
century. The fact that the Partnership is more window-dressing than a
serious approach to cutting greenhouse pollution is starkly apparent in
the economic modelling of the impacts of yesterday’s agreement
commissioned by the Government.

The modelling was carried out by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture
and Resource Economics (ABARE), whose previous work on climate change
was the subject of sharp criticism by the Commonwealth Ombudsman after
it was revealed that it was funded by major oil and coal companies.

ABARE has learned its lesson, after a fashion. Instead of hiding its
funding sources, it lists in the appendix to its latest work a number
of fossil fuel majors that have provided financial support, including
Exxon, Chevron Texaco, Rio Tinto and the Minerals Council of Australia.
According to ABARE’s most optimistic forecasts, the Asia Pacific
Partnership will see global greenhouse pollution more than double by
the middle of the century.

This is despite Environment Minister Ian Campbell declaring last month:
“Science tells us we will need a 50 to 60% reduction in global
greenhouse gas emissions within the next 50 years or so.”

The ABARE modelling – which the Prime Minister referred to admiringly
in his speech to the meeting – shows that under the best-case scenario,
annual global emissions will increase from approximately 8 gigatonnes
(thousand million tonnes) of carbon equivalent now to over 17
gigatonnes in 2050.

The consensus among climate scientists is that annual emissions must be
reduced to around 3 gigatonnes to prevent the worst effects of global
warming. Fourteen thousand million tonnes of carbon have gone missing
in the Government’s calculations. But we can be sure that we will all
feel the effects of them in coming decades.

The Government has criticised the Kyoto Protocol for not going far
enough, yet its own answer will have no appreciable effect. The AP6
agreement will do virtually nothing to protect the world from the worst
impacts of climate change, a grotesque political failing whose
magnitude is highlighted by recent news that 2005 was the hottest year
on record. The CSIRO has projected that we can expect a trebling of the
frequency of the sort of scorcher we had on New Year’s Day – when it
reached 44 degrees in Sydney and close to that in Melbourne.

According to the ABARE modelling, AP6 will not begin to reduce the
growth in emissions until around 2020, blithely assuming that we have
another couple of decades to wait until measures kick in. In the
meantime, real cuts in greenhouse pollution using existing technology
under the Kyoto Protocol are occurring now in Europe, Japan and the
developing world. The A$100 million for the AP6 announced by the Howard
Government is a piddling amount by any measure, especially compared to
the sums going into clean energy under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Asia Pacific Partnership is really an exercise in blame shifting.
Instead of taking responsibility for Australia’s skyrocketing
emissions, the Howard Government is claiming that it is up to industry
to do what is needed. The Howard Government still doesn’t get it.