The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
 FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

Speech

Barossa Valley, 1 September 2005

The 2005 Sir Condor Laucke Oration "Australia, the Global Environment and the Economy"

Members of the Laucke family,
Distinguished members and guests of the Combined Services Clubs of the Barossa Valley,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a pleasure to be here this evening to deliver this year's Sir Condor Laucke Oration - to honour a fine man of this region and of the nation.

This is a worthy tradition of the Combined Services Clubs of the Barossa Valley since Sir Condor delivered the inaugural address in 1981.

Sir Condor was a man who devoted considerable time and energy to the development of this local community, his State and of Australia.

His career in public life spanned four decades - from the Upper House in the South Australian Parliament in 1956…

…turning to federal politics in 1967…

…and then his term as South Australia's Lieutenant Governor from 1982 to 1992.

Sir Condor's term as a Senator for South Australia from 1967 to 1981, included five years as Senate President during which he ensured a well-run Senate and promoted an efficient Parliament

Sir Condor also maintained an interest in international issues, and represented the Parliament and the nation at a number of international events and occasions.

Sir Condor and his family have made a strong contribution to the local area - through the family milling business which continues today, and also in the wine industry for which this part of Australia is now so well known nationally and internationally.

It is therefore fitting that we honour Sir Condor with a speech which has national and international import.

And this evening I would like to explore a topic of crucial relevance to all Australians - the environment.

There is no doubt that generally speaking, all of us care about the environment.

But too often environmental issues are addressed in an emotional context instead of a practical manner.

Too often the debate ignores the critical nexus between the environment and the economy.

Environmental management and economic development are, in the end, completely reliant upon each other.

Rather than be in competition, in the end they need to have what is known in the natural world as a symbiotic relationship - each supporting the right conditions for the other.

So I want to discuss what the Australian Government is doing through international diplomacy and cooperation to address major issues for the environment.

In particular I want to focus on why and how we are finding practical and achievable outcomes....outcomes that enhance our economic prospects and advance our broader foreign policy interests.

Climate change, or global warming, is the challenge at the forefront of environmental debate now, from school classrooms, to movie theatres and in international political debates.

The Australian Government has long held the view that the Kyoto protocol does not provide the global community with a practical or effective means to address serious environmental concerns raised by greenhouse gas emissions.

Our recent initiative to become a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate is an important step in the direction of a more practical approach to climate issues…

…a practical approach that embraces technology and looks for ways to solve problems in ways that don't create economic hardship.

This approach also applies to our policies on uranium supply.

Australia holds the world's largest uranium reserves, which enables us to make a major contribution to global energy production.

It also means we have the responsibility and the opportunity to have a strong impact on international efforts to counter proliferation of nuclear materials - an area where we have long played a leading role.

The plain reality is that the growing demand for energy world-wide, and in our own region, will be satisfied in part by nuclear power generation.

It is the only current form of power generation capable of producing large amounts of electricity, without significant emissions of the greenhouse gas - carbon dioxide.

In the 21st century, the responsible position is to recognise that nuclear power has an important place in the overall global energy mix.

And to work constructively - as the Australian Government is doing - at implementing strong safeguards and safety standards.

As we confront global environmental challenges we need to avoid pseudo-science and doomsday scenarios.

Neither should we deny to others the prospects to enjoy all the benefits of the modern developed society that we enjoy.

And of course we all want to bequeath to those who come after us, a better, cleaner world.

To solve complex problems without easy answers, we must not underestimate the power of human and scientific endeavour to enable us to overcome even the greatest of challenges.

Australia - Taking Action on Climate Issues

Climate change is a serious problem that warrants a long-term and sustained commitment to substantive action.

There is scientific evidence that the global climate is warming, and that greenhouse gas emissions and their radiative forcing - that is, their role in preventing heat escaping from the Earth's atmosphere - have increased, including as a result of human activities.

While carbon dioxide levels - essentially the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere - were relatively stable up until industrialisation, there is no doubt that since then there has been a significant rise.

Australia, asthe driest inhabited continent with a highly variable climate and susceptibility to drought, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Shifting rainfall patterns could have severe environmental impacts and create economic damage in our agricultural industries.

The Government is working assiduously to address climate change nationally through efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Over $1.8 billion has already been committed to climate change measures; including half a billion dollars to seed finance the development of low-emission technologies.

But Australia's efforts alone to mitigate emissions will not make much difference to overall global concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The magnitude of the global challenge is considerable.

On present trends the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects carbon dioxide levels to almost double from their current level between now and 2100.

Just to stabilise carbon dioxide at double pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, the IEA estimates that developed countries will have to reduce their emissions to around half of their 1990 levels, or even lower.

Clearly action is required not only by developed countries, but by developing countries, where the major growth in energy production is going to occur.

The Kyoto Protocol was an attempt to restrain global emissions.

Some say Kyoto was a 'first step', others a 'misstep'.

Australia will meet its target negotiated under Kyoto…

…but we will not pretend that Kyoto fixed the problem of climate change, and we will not join it.

Those who think Kyoto was the answer do not understand the question.

The key point is that developing countries - including such large emitters as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia - have no obligations to restrain their greenhouse emissions. It is in these very countries where there will be the major growth in greenhouse gases.

Kyoto's practical result is therefore minimal - absurdly so, given the amount of attention it has received.

Without Kyoto, Global green house gas emissions were expected to be 41 per cent higher in 2010 compared to 1990…

…under Kyoto, they will rise by 40 per cent

(i.e. Kyoto will shave barely one per cent from this emissions growth).

And that's only if its intentions are fulfilled - which appears unlikely given that Canada, Japan and most EU members are projected to overshoot significantly their Kyoto targets.

So, global emissions will continue to rise unsustainably in the absence of renewed and concerted global action and cooperation.

Australia supports the forging of an inclusive and effective multilateral agreement on climate change mitigation.

We will continue to work within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to that end.

As permanent chair of the Umbrella Group (US, Russia, Japan, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, Ukraine, Kazakhstan), we have weight in the UNFCCC.

But long experience has demonstrated, unfortunately, that even when it can agree on action, the UN can take years to achieve a result.

We are not prepared to stand still in the meantime.

That is why the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate I announced in July is a critical effort by the six major Asia-Pacific economies to take practical action on climate change and other clean development objectives.

Australia has been central to the development of the Partnership, and I will host the inaugural meeting in Australia later this year.

The Partnership, consisting of Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States, represents about half of the global economy and population.

The Partnership will focus on the development, diffusion and uptake of new low-carbon technologies and effective energy efficiency initiatives.

The Partnership is not about setting short-term, arbitrary goals that most countries can't meet anyway.

Nor does it pretend there is a quick fix.

Importantly, the Partners agree that climate change actions should complement economic development and energy security goals.

Climate action should not be a matter of clean versus prosperity - but for us to be prosperous and clean.

We will not tell the developing world to cut their growth rates to appease first world middle class sensitivities.

Electricity generation is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions - and is still growing.

But we don't think it is right to tell others that they can't switch on their lights, or power their hospitals, or run their trains, or provide jobs for their citizens through industrial development.

The Partnership will closely engage the corporate world in achieving its objectives.

Global dependence on fossil fuels for energy will be an enduring reality for our lifetimes and beyond.

A major collective challenge, therefore, is to develop and implement improved technologies that allow for the continued economic use of fossil fuels while constraining emissions.

If we ignore the need to do this, we would be ignoring one of the fundamental ways we can practically address climate change.

For example, the improved use of coal in energy production through advanced technology offers enormous potential to reduce greenhouse emissions and further protect the environment without constraining economic development.

Renewable energy and nuclear power will also represent an increasing share of global energy supply in the years to come.

Once established, both renewables and nuclear create essentially no emissions.

So improving renewables and nuclear technology will be another focus for the Partnership.

Australian Uranium and Global Demands for Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power's clear benefits in greenhouse terms are causing many countries to reconsider some outdated prejudices.

The reality is that nuclear energy is the only established non-fossil fuel energy source capable of generating large amounts of baseload electricity without significant emissions of carbon dioxide.

Its nearest rival, hydropower, has a far larger environmental impact, including through the inundation of vegetated areas.

The actual operation of nuclear plants produces no greenhouse gas emissions at all. None.

Australia's current uranium exports account for almost 2 per cent of total world electricity …

… and countries using Australian uranium avoid CO2 emissions of the same magnitude as Australia's own CO2 emissions from all sources.

Safety concerns about nuclear power are inaccurate perceptions of risks that are not backed up by facts.

Anti-nuclear groups irresponsibly exploit these concerns to pursue their own mythology.

Everyone has heard of Chernobyl.

According to the most reputable studies [joint EC-IAEA-WHO ones], the extimated number of deaths from the Chernobyl accident is around 50.

But we must recognise that Chernobyl involved old reactor technology unique to former Soviet bloc countries.

These reactors would never be licensed in western countries and are being phased out of service.

Excluding Chernobyl, since 1970 there has been only a handful of fatalities directly attributable to accidents in the nuclear power industry.

Of course, any fatality is a serious matter, but the fact is these are a mere fraction of fatalities occurring in everyday industrial activities.

For example, while Australia's coal industry has an exceptional safety record, since 1970 there have been over 20,000 fatalities in the worldwide coal industry.

Today the major countries operating power reactors have combined in a collective effort to commercialise a new generation of nuclear power plants that will be even safer and more efficient.

The "Generation IV" technologies now under development are reactor designs with enhanced safety, proliferation resistance, reliability and economic performance.

Already, over 30 countries have nuclear power programs - there are about 440 reactors in operation around the world generating about
17 per cent (one sixth) of the world's electricity.

In doing so, they avoid emissions of some 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The number of reactors globally is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.

And more countries - including in our region - are likely to turn to nuclear power as part of their national endeavours to reduce greenhouse emissions and address other concerns such as energy security.

Australia will have a vital role to play with regard to the future of global nuclear power.

As global demand for greenhouse-friendly nuclear power grows, global demand for uranium will also grow.

And as the holder of the world's largest uranium reserves, we have a responsibility to supply clean energy to other countries - even if, so far, we have chosen not to use nuclear energy ourselves.

Some may well ask why we would not contemplate doing so, particularly if we are thinking of building such energy-hungry installations as water desalination plants.

But the reality is that in the foreseeable future a domestic nuclear power industry is unlikely to be an economically viable option in Australia.

Frankly, from the view of logic one could comprehend someone not caring about cutting greenhouse gases, and being opposed to nuclear energy …

… but it takes a quite strange way of thinking to say you are concerned about greenhouse gases and opposed to nuclear energy.

This is denying reality.

Clearly, we must ensure that the expansion of nuclear power does not impact adversely on the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Australia's Strong Proliferation Credentials

Australia has the benefit of geological mechanisms that have concentrated uranium into deposits that can be commercially mined.

But it is important to understand uranium is not a scarce material - every country has some uranium. If cost is no object, it can even be extracted from seawater.

So the issue of nuclear proliferation cannot be avoided through Australia withholding uranium.

But most importantly, as a major supplier of uranium for nuclear energy programs, Australia has been able to use its position to promote the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and contribute to the development of International Atomic Energy Agency - or IAEA - safeguards.

Australia is highly active in counter-proliferation cooperation internationally and in our own region, and it is something I have taken a close interest in my entire Parliamentary career.

We know that more work needs to be done by more countries in order to strengthen the rules and systems that exist to address proliferation.

Australia has been active in its efforts to strengthen multilateral treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty or CTBT.

Later this month, I will be in New York to chair a conference of parties to the CTBT on ways to accelerate the Treaty's entry into force.

Recent examples - the AQ Khan network that exported nuclear technologies from Pakistan, North Korea's intransigence on nuclear issues and the continued stand-off in Iran - all highlight the need to strengthen existing non-proliferation measures.

International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards must be strengthened, in particular through universal application of the Additional Protocol to IAEA safeguards agreements, which extends and improves the IAEA's inspection, information and access rights.

Australia played a major role in the negotiation of the Additional Protocol, and was the first to ratify an Additional Protocol, in 1997.

We are working with the IAEA and other countries to increase the number of Additional Protocols in force, in particular through assistance to states in our region.

In support of this goal, I announced in May 2005 at the NPT Review Conference Australia's intention to make the Additional Protocol a condition for the supply of Australian uranium to non-nuclear weapon states - the first country to do so.

We urge all nuclear suppliers to apply a similar requirement.

Australia has also been active in preventing proliferators from sourcing the materials they need to develop WMD through export control regimes.

We play an especially prominent role as chair of the Australia Group which guards against exports being diverted to chemical and biological weapons programs.

We are also actively committed to the Proliferation Security Initiative as an innovative and effective tool for tackling proliferation as it occurs.

Safeguards in Action

One of the ways Australia contributes to responsible use of uranium resources is through a network of bilateral safeguards agreements.

Indeed, Australia sets the benchmark around the world in terms of the strict, treaty-level peaceful-use conditions placed on the use of Australian uranium.

All of Australia's uranium is exported for exclusively peaceful purposes, and only to countries and parties with which Australia has a bilateral safeguards agreement…

…ensuring that Australia's nuclear exports remain in exclusively peaceful use, and may only be retransferred to a party with a bilateral safeguards agreement with Australia.

This network of agreements - with 19 agreements covering 36 countries - complements and builds upon the IAEA's safeguards regime, establishing treaty-level conditions on the use of all nuclear material exported from Australia.

Growing demand for Australia's uranium and the growing take-up of nuclear energy are illustrated by China's interest in negotiating a safeguards agreement with Australia.

As I announced on 9 August this year, we have now agreed to formally commence negotiations.

China's demand for uranium by 2020 could be roughly equivalent to Australia's entire current annual exports - which in 2004-05 were about 9,000 tonnes, earning $475 million.

China does not have sufficient domestic uranium resources to meet this demand economically - which is why it is set to become a major uranium importer.

Supply by Australia would enable us to further promote our safeguards standards in the region, where we already have agreements with close partners Japan and with South Korea and others.

As with all our agreements, the agreement with China will require strict safeguards conditions to ensure Australian Obligated Nuclear Material is used for exclusively peaceful purposes.

Our safeguards agreements also proscribe all military uses - not only nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices, but also naval propulsion and depleted uranium munitions.

And in the case of a nuclear-weapon state - as China is - Australian Obligated Nuclear Material must be covered by safeguards arrangements under the state's safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

China is an NPT party, and was the first nuclear-weapon state to ratify an Additional Protocol for strengthening IAEA safeguards.

Any agreement will also be subject to scrutiny by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) before ratification.

The Future

I mentioned before desalination - many countries are studying nuclear desalination plants, with over 100 reactor-years of experience now in operating them.

For areas where both water and power are in short supply, nuclear desalination warrants serious consideration.

Again, I should point out that this is not likely to be an option for Australian in the foreseeable future because while we are short on water we do have abundant supplies of energy.

However, in other parts of the world nuclear desalination is bound to present significant opportunities.

A relatively small reactor - 100 mega watts - could supply up to 120 megalitres (or about 60 Olympic swimming pools full) of fresh water a day - a similar amount to Perth's proposed desalination plant - while also meeting the electricity needs of some 100,000 people.

The nuclear energy impact on greenhouse emissions can be seen clearly in a statistical comparison between Australia, where there is no nuclear power, and France, where nuclear reactors supply about 80% of electricity.

Based on total CO2 emissions from electricity and heat generation (2000 figures), Australia is the ninth biggest CO2 emitter, whereas France (three times Australia's population) is 26th.

Fortunately though, with our abundant, cheap coal and efficient, relatively-clean, coal-fired power stations we have the luxury of not making some more difficult choices..

Conclusion

We've shown through the Asia-Pacific framework that Australia has a central and major role to play in making the entire world a better place, through using our resources and enhancing our national interest.

But we can't underestimate the power of those opposed to rational outcomes on the environment.

But I think it's time for serious people to realise that new thinking is required for us to leave a better world for those who'll be here in 2050.

I am certain Sir Condor would have agreed that when we are confronted by difficult challenges we need to tackle them, not with emotional scare-mongering, but with rational debate about pragmatic solutions.

Thank you.

ENDS