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The heat is on

Anthony Albanese

Climate change is real, it's hurting us now and the federal government continues to turn a blind eye.

The 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1990. Average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees over the past century.

Evidence continues to mount of the likely human and economic toll of continued warming - from heat waves in Europe to severe storms in Asia and the Americas.

Australians can already see the kind of impact that will only get worse as climate change hits home: many of our big cities and towns are experiencing severe and prolonged water shortages; up to 75 per cent of the red gums on the Murray River flood plains are sick or dying; and coral bleaching has damaged significant parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

The impact of climate change is of such a scale that it can only be tackled by global action. And what does the Howard government do? It stands apart from the international community and says we'll leave that difficult job to you.

The Howard government has failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. It has failed to develop a national climate change action plan. It has rejected greenhouse emissions trading. It has rejected a strong clean energy industry.

Worst of all, greenhouse emissions continue to skyrocket under the Howard government. According to the Australian Greenhouse Office, Australia's greenhouse emissions will actually increase by 23 per se by 2020. This is happening while other governments are setting long term targets to dramatically cut greenhouse emissions.

It looks like the tough task of curbing Australia's greenhouse emissions will be left to a future government.

There is nothing more arrogant and complacent than a government which leaves the tough tasks to others.

The Australian Labor Party accepts that climate change is real and is hurting us now. We won't turn a blind eye.

The ALP is committed to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. We will introduce an emissions trading scheme and we will encourage the development of a strong clean energy industry through a strong mandatory renewable energy target.

We're also committed to ensuring Australia gets economic benefits from cutting greenhouse emissions. The Kyoto Protocol is essentially a carrot and stick approach. The stick is reaching the target. But the carrot is early access to new and still evolving economic opportunities such as the global carbon trading market.

Kyoto harnesses the power of the market by putting a price on carbon. The carbon trading system will be worth billions of dollars in Europe alone.

Carbon trading gives companies the flexibility to meet emission targets according to their own strategy - offering the most cost-effective way for energy-intensive industries to meet their obligation to reduce emissions.

For example, BP, one of the world's largest energy suppliers, improved its bottom line by $US650 million be establishing and trialling an internal carbon trading market.

The potential for innovation, business investment and growth from ratifying Kyoto and cutting greenhouse emissions is immense. With the right policy framework, it has the potential to unleash new commercial forces and unforseen economic opportunities.

In fact, in Spain, Denmark and Germany alone the expansion of the renewable energy sector has created about a quarter of a million new jobs in the last few years.

Our companies and economy will be disadvantaged if we exclude ourselves from carbon markets and the developing clean energy technology markets. The investment will go elsewhere.

We recognise that the Kyoto Protocol isn't perfect, but it is an important first step. And it's the only game in town. It is complacent and arrogant to stay outside of the only international agreement on climate change.

As always with international agreements, Kyoto has begun with small steps. Negotiations began in 1990, the basic principles were agreed in Rio de Janiero in 1992, the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997 and it came into force in February 2005. At the beginning of the process, Australia was the leader of the pack. Now it's the lackey at the back of the pack.

Just as the Howard government has turned a blind eye to the environmental, economic and health impacts of climate change, so too has it turned a blind eye to the economic opportunities that come from investing in new and emerging markets.

The heat is on. It's time that the government started taking climate change seriously.


Anthony Albanese is Australia's Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage.


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