Last year was the hottest on record and Clive Hamilton
from The Australian Institute took the opportunity to start the New Year by
blaming the hot weather on the federal government’s refusal to sign Kyoto. The government
began the year by holding a meeting of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas
emitters including China and
the United States to develop
an alternative to Kyoto.

The meeting in Sydney
last week was a great success and this new Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean
Development and Climate will put pressure on Kyoto supporters to show how their model really
is better.

The mantra to date has been that Kyoto is “an important
first step.” Never mind that under Kyoto – where the focus is on emission targets
for developed nations – emissions are predicted to be some 40% higher in
2010. The new Partnership focuses on support for new and emerging
technologies. Industry Minister Ian McFarlane believes this could result in a
30% reduction in emissions.

The meeting’s theme, that we can “save the environment”
through science and technology is in many ways very radical, but not
incompatible with also developing a framework for carbon trading.

A real problem with Kyoto
is that developing nations, including India and China,
are not obliged to reduce their emissions. This is a discriminatory approach
based on the idea that rich countries historically have emitted more greenhouse
gases per person. But a consequence is that under Kyoto, gains might appear
to be made when in reality, emissions have just been shifted from a developed
nation to a developing nation.

Labor frontbencher Martin Ferguson was critical of
Kyoto for this
reason last week complaining that it would result in “Australian manufacturing
jobs and prosperity [moving] offshore, to countries with lower environmental
standards.” At the same time, he broke ranks with his colleagues and endorsed
the new Asia-Pacific Partnership.

Kyoto was also dealt a blow
last week when Science journal Nature published a paper attacking one of
Kyoto’s
conceptual cores: that forests are a net sink for greenhouse gases.

The new study by Frank Keppler from a German Institute
reported that forests could be a major source of the greenhouse gas methane;
indeed they could be responsible for 30% of global methane emissions.
For the moment, this is keeping the scientists distracted.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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