Howard’s Kyoto alternative will have dire economic consequences

Clive Hamilton, once mentioned here for his debate with George Monbiot, has a nice piece on, today.

The 1992 UN Framework Convention is the mother treaty for the Kyoto Protocol, and the latter was agreed in 1997 because it was accepted that the voluntary measures set out on the Convention had failed to have any appreciable effect on the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision by the United States to negotiate a future treaty under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention has left the Howard Government stranded. Although Australia ratified the Convention in the early 1990s, the Prime Minister has repeatedly attacked the UN process as flawed and insists that any progress on climate change must occur in other forums, notable AP6 and the forthcoming APEC meeting.

It does not yet seem to have acknowledged the import of the G8 agreement and the dramatic US shift.

His discussion is of Australia’s plan for a (domestic) emissions-trading economy, and the ability of that system to link up with, say, those of Europe and the US. Howard’s plans for APEC, non-Kyoto ratification and voluntary targest means, according to Hamilton, that ours will most likely not be acceptable to ‘theirs’ (for the same reason that one does not permit trade in manufactured goods with a country that, say, used slaves to make very cheap products – it’s unconscionable, first but, second, you’re at a spectacular disadvantage in the market). Europe would not allow such weak standards to invade their market, while Australians would find the price of trades increased drastically in the new market.

Hamilton concludes:

The only way to avoid this problem, which will apply to all attempts to link trading systems, is to harmonise not just the structures of the systems but the process of setting emission targets too.

Of course, this is precisely what happened at the Kyoto conference in 1997. Thus, implicit in the Prime Minister’s grand plan to develop a system to replace the Kyoto Protocol is a structural imperative to replicate it.

This replication process even extends to the proposed method of integrating developing countries into a global trading scheme. The Prime Minister’s Task Group recommends a process based closely on the Clean Development Mechanism of the Protocol, which allows firms with carbon reduction obligations to generate credits by investing in emission reductions in poor countries.

So all roads lead back to the Kyoto Protocol or a structure very like it. Despite all of the ill-informed attacks on the treaty in this country, the protocol was in truth an extraordinary achievement, the essential elements of which will inevitably be imitated in any subsequent global system.


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