Topics: Paris climate summit
The Environment Minister Greg Hunt is with the Prime Minister at the climate conference. He joins us from Paris now. Minister, welcome to Breakfast.
Good morning Fran.
So Australia will be one of two countries who signed on to Mission Innovation initiative. So we'll double our R&D spending over the next five years for clean energy.
Each country, it's planned, will concentrate on a specific type of cleaner energy research. What area will Australia focus our efforts on?
Look in particular we are very, very good at energy efficiency.
We will work with other countries though and there are actually a range of countries at the launch today – the UK, France, India, we had Brazil and many, many other countries there and Australia was one of them.
The United States and Bill Gates were helping to lead it with President Obama involved.
So we'll focus on energy efficiency but also in particular solar voltaics.
We have some very, very good capacity and it's not widely known, people often say ‘gee Australia should have a wide spread of solar’ – in fact we do.
We have the highest percentage of households in the world that have solar electricity.
Given our ongoing investment in new coal mines and given we still have some of the dirtiest, most inefficient coal fired power generators in this country, should we be focussing too on clean coal, carbon capture and storage – should we focus our innovation there?
Look there is work that's being done on each of those fronts to a degree.
One of the things that is happening though is that there has been a progressive transition.
So we're going through a decade which will see about 19 per cent of coal fire capacity retired and then renewables are coming on stream.
So there’s a pretty significant transition on that front, but across the globe, and I think this is the way to look at it, we need to be considering all of the different forms of emissions reduction.
Our landscape work is seen as world leading, and so Australia is joining with the French here in a soil carbon [inaudible], we've signed onto our work with forests with the international community, and we're also helping lead a global rainforest recovery initiative.
Okay. Talking about bringing our renewables on stream, the PM says innovation and technology will drive humanity's capacity to overcome global warming.
Why is Australia then proceeding with plans to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency?
Because Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed yesterday that that still is the Government's policy – to abolish ARENA and the CEFC. Is that still the plan?
Sure there hasn't been any change in that policy. We're realistic about…
Will there be a change now?
Look there hasn't been a change and I'm not going to suggest that there will.
Let me say this though, we're realistic about the Senate so we've created an Office of Climate Change and Renewables Innovation which brings together the work of ARENA and the CEFC with the Emissions Reduction Fund and in addition the Renewable Energy Target.
I do have to note that the Emissions Reduction Fund has been getting very significant interest in meetings that I have had.
People are looking at it, we know that the World Bank has adopted a similar system, the international aviation industry is looking at the Australian model amongst others but in particular the large elements of what we're doing…
Sure, but Minister, I'm sorry to interrupt, but the Emissions Reduction Fund, that has its job, but if we're now pledging to double our investment on clean energy research – isn't that what the CEFC and ARENA are there for?
And isn't there contradictions now in the fact that the Abbott Government cut spending on science, research and innovation to an historic low – 140 million slashed from CSIRO in last year's budget, 700 million over the forward estimates cut to ARENA.
I mean where is this research going to be done?
Sure well there are a variety of options, the first thing is of course we have a major innovation statement, which has been foreshadowed, which is due over the coming weeks.
So a very significant innovation statement that will lay out a framework for this Prime Minister and Cabinet on the structure that he will take forward.
And we have a range of avenues, whether it's through the Australian Research Council and the universities, the CSIRO, the work which is being done through the Office of Climate Change and Renewable Innovation – all making use of the existing institutions.
The reason I mention the Emissions Reduction Fund is because it has led pioneering work on many fronts which has been observed right here on the other side of the world – people are interested.
So it is important to understand that of all of the countries in the world, Australia has just been elected as the co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, which was an international endorsement of our work.
Okay. We're going to come to that. We've got a bit to get through, and I want to come to that particularly.
But before then it's important I think to note too that Australia has decided not to sign on to the communiqué put forward or spearheaded by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to wind back government subsidies on fossil fuels.
Has the Government caved in to the Nationals back home and the mining industry?
No. Our position for a long while…
Well why wouldn't we sign that then?
Well there are numerous communiqués here, and the most important of anything is Kyoto II.
Look I understand that the United States, and Canada, and Japan have not done that.
The bigger story, and I'd respectfully put this, that's come out overnight is that Australia will ratify Kyoto II, with the support of the Cabinet and the party room.
This is a very significant moment in Australian climate policy, a very significant moment. And unlike some, we don't…
Because it will achieve what – what will it change?
Well we will meet and beat our targets.
Of course this was seen as a test of belief for many years. Now we have done it. And…
The 5 per cent you're talking?
…we met and beat out targets.
This is the minus 5 per cent or the minus 13 per cent from 2005 to 2020.
And then in addition to that, it allows us to prepare for the decade beyond.
And so I think it's an important symbol, but it also is a testament to the fact that when we pledge we actually meet and beat those targets.
Because of course for five and six years we had many critics saying you would never beat your targets under your policies.
Well, we've done that, we've done it five years in advance.
We've committed to ratifying an international agreement that many thought we wouldn't, and we've set strong international targets for the period out to 2030.
So that's a significant thing the Government's claiming.
But just interested why the Government wouldn't want to sign a communiqué winding back subsidies on fossil fuels at the same time?
What's the issue for us there?
Sure well we actually have endorsed precisely that principle in the G20.
There was one particular element in relation to an IMF report which we didn't agree with.
We respect the views of others, but there are numerous different communiqués here in terms of soil carbon, Kyoto, forests…
Just to interrupt Minister, the bit…
…clean energy research, and solar – which we are endorsing – this one has something which we didn't…
Yes but the bit you were worried about, was that the – was the bit that you were worried about that might bring into play the $5.5 billion that the Government – the concession the Government gives to industry for spending on fossil fuels?
The diesel fuel rebate for instance?
It's not that bit?
No, we support the diesel fuel rebate. It's not actually a subsidy in terms of inefficient fossil fuels.
What it is that is making sure that what is essentially a road user charge is not applied to off road users.
That's all it is. But that wasn't actually in question here.
There was one particular reference and incorporation of an International Monetary Fund report which was essentially advocating and demanding carbon taxes.
And we didn't think that that fit in with our policies in Australia.
But as I say, numerous communiqués – Kyoto, forest, clean energy, solar, soil carbon – involved in all of them.
This is one, it had something in it that didn't fit with us.
And I tell you what everybody's talking about here – there was widespread applause, the plenary hall stopped and applauded when the Prime Minister announced Australia signing Kyoto II.
That is the big story in relation to Australia on this side of the world.
Okay and just finally, the Green Climate Fund, which you mentioned before – Australia will contribute a total of $1 billion over five years.
And that's really the current level of spending, we currently spend 200 million a year.
Why are we putting only the same amount in when a country like Canada has more than doubled its commitment?
It's now pledging $2.65 billion over five years. Why are we giving so much less comparatively?
Look I think Australia's being very generous. I would correct something that you said…
Well we're not, we're just giving the same as we've always given.
Now, Fran, can I please speak. I just correct what you said, because there was a significant error in it.
Firstly, our 200 million is for the Green Climate Fund, and then all up over five years it's $1 billion, which is primarily through country to country funding.
So Australia focuses very much on country to country funding, doing things in a practical way with countries within our region.
And then the last element is, we act in what we think is both a generous but responsible manner that fits Australia's circumstances.
And some countries are not pledging to meet their Kyoto targets, are not signing up to Kyoto, such as Canada.
We respect their views, but they're going to be well in excess of the targets that they set down.
We're meeting and beating our targets, so they may feel that they need to make up overseas for any domestic gaps that they might have.
Minister thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast And good luck…
Thanks a lot Fran.
…with the negotiations over the next week.
Look, the mood is optimistic, and I think it's realistic about the challenges.
But at the end of the day 150 world leaders do bring enormous, almost unprecedented momentum.
Let's hope the momentum carries through. Greg Hunt, thank you very much for your time.