Press releases

Sunday 07 Dec 1997

Statement to the GLOBE Symposium on Climate Change

Kyoto, 7 December 1997 - For those of you who have been part of the climate change discussion over the course of the past ten years, challenge and complexity are familiar words. Without doubt, this issue more than any in history, tests our skills in public policy-making and diplomacy as well as our political will. Climate change is not about meteorology but about energy. Fundamentally it is about the basis of our economic development, our security and our ways of life. And so we must not expect miracles. Our patterns of energy consumption have grown up over centuries and have become entrenched in the life of nations, society and culture. This cannot be changed easily.

The United Nations Environment Programme alerts the world to threats to the environment. The science of the IPCC gives evidence of clear and present danger. And, as you would expect today, I must say that the global community's collective response to the climate change issue is woefully inadequate.

There is an enormous gap between what is on the table for discussion here at Kyoto and the 60 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that the IPCC suggests the situation warrants. Even the most optimistic view of what this meeting could hope to agree is in the range of 5 to 15 per cent reductions from 1990 levels by 2010, plus or minus a few years.

Why have Governments achieved so little in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Why did those same Governments, who signed the climate convention in Rio, not do more to heed the warnings of the scientists? Why has economic analysis been so inadequate? How could we have wasted so much time and done so little in the race against climate change?

If we are ever to make adequate progress, we must take a very hard look at how we go about it. If there has been insufficient progress since Rio, we must understand why. To me it is clear that for there to be progress, and for that progress to be sustainable, it must be built on a solid scientific, economic and political foundation. The difficulties we are having in making progress in these negotiations derive from shortcomings in each of these three dimensions.

In the scientific domain, the international community established the IPCC expressly to provide a scientific foundation for decision-making. Its findings are based on research carried on all over the planet analyzed by some of the world's leading climate scientists. Despite the fact that the IPCC assessments have been accepted as the basis of the climate negotiations, there are those who persist in promulgating claims which have not undergone the normal rigours of publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Whether they overstate or understate the consequences of global warming, such claims do no service to society, nor do those who convey them uncritically to the public.

On the economic front, numerous studies reveal opportunities for energy conservation and greenhouse gas reductions that already exist. In their own self interest some municipalities and industries are already making economic and health gains from environmentally friendly energy and transportation policies. The insurance industry has recognized that environmental risk is business risk. Yet, for the most part, we continue to do our analyses on the basis of costs of action not inaction, and certainly not on the benefits. And consequently we have not triggered the technology innovation and the search for opportunities that would motivate countries and businesses to get out ahead of the market. Climate change has not yet become a price-sensitive indicator in the market. A protocol that is sound economically would in its design allow the flexibility necessary to seriously examine innovative market mechanisms.

But we must also be prepared to take action that may not be entirely free of cost, or that may not be the most convenient thing we could do. This is a time for choice - hard choices, perhaps expensive choices - but ultimately necessary choices. By not taking decisions now we increase our vulnerability and we don't yet fully know to what extent.

As regards the political dimension, in order for governments to agree to specific targets and timetables, they must know that there is a reasonable prospect for political support at home for the measures that will be required to meet those commitments. And this is evidently far from the case. We cannot expect to make adequate headway on emission stabilization, much less reduction, until there is greater public understanding of the importance of this issue - and a much greater public preparedness to be part of a solution to the problem.

And this is why the role of parliamentarians is so important in these negotiations here in Kyoto. And, I would suggest, it is absolutely crucial to building consensus over the years to come. It is in your world that the art of synthesizing the three dimensions of science and economics and politics into what is possible takes place.

As Bert Bolin has suggested, perhaps we don't all yet feel the importance of this issue in our bones. Humanity has not yet embraced climate change as the critical and urgent issue it is. As individuals we are not yet engaged in finding ways we can each contribute to the resolution of this problem. I believe we need a clear articulation and public diffusion of the agenda.

In cultures such as mine, for example, the automobile is at the centre of our lives. In thousands of modern suburban homes across North America, the prominent architectural feature is the garage, often large enough to accommodate two cars, no longer a separate building hidden beside or behind the house, but now attached and set proudly out front in a way that almost suggests the house itself was the afterthought. This garage-dominant architecture will provide an unmistakable clue for future generations of archaeologists as to the virtually sacred role of the automobile in North American culture of the late 20th century, where every activity outside of the home begins with a trip in the automobile, whether it is to buy food, take children to school, or go to your place of work. The peace and solitude enjoyed by millions of North American commuters sitting alone in their five or six passenger cars, in long lines of rush-hour traffic, approaches an inalienable right and it will not easily be changed. And this is but one of many frontiers that must be crossed in the process of protecting the integrity of the current global climate.

And it will require leadership of a sort that has so far been scarce. Amid the din of vigorous defences of national interests, very few voices offering leadership, much less self- sacrifice, in the name of collective well-being can be heard. There is an urgent need for the world's statesmen and stateswomen to take up this issue and see it through.

Ultimately, the climate agreement will serve and involve all of us. But to get to that point will require patience to recognize and understand the special circumstances of each of the countries of the world. The principle of equity must prevail. It is absolutely clear that until the developed world has taken the first step, any expectation that developing countries would commit to action is entirely without foundation. Developing countries need this demonstration of good faith - collective responsibility and action will follow naturally; it does not need coercion nor must it be conditional.

The risk of green diplomacy in recent years reflects a growing awareness of a new realpolitik that must be addressed not by competition but by cooperation. We must bear in mind how failure here in Kyoto could injure the most important instrument of international cooperation, the multilateral process. If the effort invested in this issue over the past decade proves to have been for naught, how can we expect to maintain sufficient faith in the multilateral approach for its continued service in the resolution of global environmental issues. Failure in Kyoto is not an acceptable option for the nations of the world.

Let me conclude by underscoring that reaching an agreement simply for the sake of having an agreement, is not our objective in Kyoto. It must be the right agreement. Negotiators may well find language that they could all agree on - but that may not constitute success. Success will not be a compromise on environmental safety or a negotiation to the lowest common denominator.

Success and real results will derive from a solid commitment by the industrialized countries to take responsibility for their historic contribution to the global warming issue - a significant and early percentage reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Success will derive from an unambiguous protocol - clear in its objectives and obligations and free of loopholes. Success will require strong compliance measures built into the protocol to ensure that no Party could achieve competitive advantage through failure to honour its commitments. These negotiations must send a signal to the world that we are serious about climate change.

Kyoto is just one particular milestone along a long road. Concerted and sustained effort will be required. Analysis and mid-course corrections in the process will be inevitable if the process is to be effective and productive in the long term. For, the development of a stronger scientific, economic and political foundation for continued negotiations will, I submit, be crucial. And your continued commitment to this endeavour will be indispensable.

Sunday 07 Dec 1997
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