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Transcript 22584

Interview with Alan Jones Radio 2GB, Sydney

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/11/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22584

JONES:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

JONES:

Climate change has become the defining global issue hasn't it? You're saying it requires global co-operation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, it has become a big issue. It needs a response that is progressive but also one that protects Australia's economic interests. We have to remember that much of the agenda to date, especially with Kyoto, has been shaped by Europe. I don't say that critically, Europe has a huge role to play, but Europe's interests are different from Australia's. Australia is almost unique in being a developed country which is also net exporter of energy and we therefore have to make very sure as we move forward that we don't load our industries, like the coal industry or the gas industry, which are both very important to Australia's economic well-being with unfair burdens so that they lose markets or lose their competitive edge.

JONES:

Right. So are you saying that globally, basically to put it in language that people listening to you understand, we've got to one day move into a low-carbon economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I don't think there's any doubt we have to move forward to that, I don't think...if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we have to use products and engage in activities that use less...produce less carbon.

JONES:

And do you think the good-will is there, I'm talking globally, to secure a long term emissions reduction agreement?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think you can say that at the moment. I do, however, think that most people acknowledge that it is a problem. There are varying degrees of concern. I don't accept all of the alarmist predictions, I'm somewhere in the middle and I'm sure somewhere in the middle is about right. I think the globe is getting warmer and I think there's plenty of scientific evidence to that effect. I don't think we're about to be covered by the sea tomorrow, it's not going to happen tomorrow, but we have to work towards it, but I think it's going to take a lot. One of the things you've got to remember is that developing countries like China are not going to lightly accept restrictions on their use of dirty fuel which developed countries never accepted while they were developing.

JONES:

See if we became, tomorrow, as green as a billiard table, because we've only got about one per cent of the world emissions, it wouldn't make any difference at all would it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, if we closed down every power station in Australia tomorrow, it would take China nine months of emissions to cancel that out. Nine months. That is why you can't seriously address this problem on a global scale unless you have China, India and the United States which together amount to close to 50 per cent of the world's pollution. America is the biggest at 25 per cent roughly. China is 15 and growing fast, India is, I think, something like eight or nine. Now, you add all of those together, you've got half the world's emissions and that is why this partnership, the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate is so important because it includes all of those countries and five of them will be in Hanoi.

JONES:

Now the President of that conference in Nairobi is the Kenyan Environment Minister. He said that for those African communities, scarce resources that would otherwise be channelled into essential projects to further economic development would have to be used for emergencies such as health-care crises, water shortage and food stock failures if climate change isn't addressed. Do you agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I agree that could happen. Just how quickly and when is hard to know. Look Alan, I accept really the insurance principle. I hope my house does not burn down, but I will take out insurance in case it does. I essentially approach this issue from that point of view.

JONES:

But I suppose Africa is saying what you just said about Australia. I mean if Africa, as you know, is responsible for just a tiny proportion of global emissions but seems to be bearing a hell of a cost, a human cost.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think Africa is talking, and the man at Nairobi is talking, about the ultimate consequences if something is not done. Now, when that is and the pace at which it occurs is the issue to debate, but I think we are all agreed we have to try and do things both internationally and domestically. There are a lot of things we can do domestically, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency savings, we can provide opportunities for people to use wind and solar power, which at the margins can make a difference. There are all sorts of things we can do domestically and I am not arguing that we wait on an international agreement before we do things domestically. We are a lot more energy efficient now than we were five years ago.

JONES:

How far down the track are we on this clean coal technology?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have begun the process. We have invested, we have announced Government commitments to a series of projects and also a major solar project in Mildura, which would be the largest solar investment of its kind anywhere in the world. So we are beginning that process. It's very important this to us, because if we can clean up the use of coal, that will maintain an important industry for us and it will also be very important for the Chinese.

JONES:

Yes, absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER:

A lot of people don't realise that China has five or six times as much coal as Australia but it's very dirty coal, a lot of it's brown coal and that is why they import a lot of coal from this country. And if we can help the Chinese with technology to clean up their coal, that will reinforce our partnership but it will also be of enormous benefit to that country. It's one of the issues I am going to talk to the Chinese President about when I see him on Friday afternoon.

JONES:

Good on you. Now you've expressed support for nuclear power, saying it had become more economically competitive or it will become more economically competitive as clean coal technologies drive up the cost of electricity. There is probably, though, is there not, only about 50 years worth of uranium available. I see an internal Victorian Government report recently found that nuclear powered electricity would cost twice as much as that produced from coal and that the world's viable uranium supplies could be depleted within 24 years. So that may not be a long term answer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's dearer than coal at the moment, it's dearer than dirty coal, but it won't be dearer than clean coal, and that's the point.

JONES:

But the uranium supply may run out.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll come to the reserves. Well, they're finite, but 40 or 50 years is still a lot of time and, who knows, in that period of time you can discover more. And (inaudible) technologies might also during that period of time, and this is never a static game.

JONES:

Right.

PRIME MINISTER:

New technologies are always being developed and some people talk about hydrogen. Now, I am at this stage non-committal on that because I don't think the science is sufficiently far advanced, but it could in time and that might happen.

JONES:

Well on Monday at Blacktown you said, about the first Solar City, you said solar is a nice, easy soft answer. There's a vague idea in the community that solar doesn't cost anything and can solve the problem. It can't, solar and all these other things, you said, can make a contribution at the margins. But unless you want to have a windmill every hundred feet, starting at South Head and going down to Malabar, you simply won't be able to generate enough power from something like wind in order to take the load off the power that's generated by the use of coal and gas, and in time, I believe, nuclear. Now, I spoke to someone who is known to you on the program exactly at the same time and this was an expert, an academic expert David Mills from Sydney University, who's formally been involved in, he was the head of the solar energy group at Sydney University. He told me on Monday that there are two regions in New South Wales, one near Bourke and one near Moree which he said had the capability, and I quote his words, to provide the energy needs of two billion people at a European living standard. Are we doing enough to promote these technologies?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I believe that we are but like all of these things, if there is a new way, of which I am not aware, or there's a new approach that can do it better I am all ears and eyes. It was open to anybody to seek financial assistance from the Government's Low Emissions Technology Fund, and we did, as well as supporting clean coal technologies, we did out of that fund support that very large solar project in Mildura. Now I am interested in this. I did hear a little about it and I will see that that man is contacted and we can get some further information. All the advice and assessments I have to date are that although solar can make a big contribution, it's not a situation where you can get rid of power stations and replace them with solar and wind.

JONES:

I'll send the material to you PM.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'd be very interested in that.

JONES:

Just a final thing, wrapping all that together, how do we get the debate on the merits and the timeframe of the clean coal technology, or the truth about global warming, which would be a start wouldn't it; nuclear power, solar power, wind power; are you planning a portfolio for someone, a Malcolm Turnbull or whatever, that will look exclusively at water on the one hand and the climate change issue on the other?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Alan, you know my practice with these things. There's always speculation about people. If I've got any changes to announce I will just announce them. Let's leave personalities...

JONES:

Sure, righto.

PRIME MINISTER:

Malcolm's doing a great job. Ian Campbell, Environment Minister, who is in Nairobi, he's doing a great job as well. What we need to do is engage in a constant conversation with the public about this issue. The public is interested, like the Australian public with most things, they bring a balanced view. They want something more done about climate change, there's no doubt about that, and we will and are, but they also want a balanced approach. They don't want to lose this country's standard of living, they don't want us to unfairly disadvantage our coal industries and they certainly don't want to see this country sign an international agreement like the present Kyoto that burdens us with penalties but lets others who might compete against us get away scot-free.

JONES:

Absolutely. Good to talk to you. Thank you for your time Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22584