‘Rio + 10’: Johannesburg 2002
Failure to ratify Kyoto isolates Australia says Local Government delegation

Failure to ratify Kyoto isolates Australia says Local Government delegation

A number of Australian Local Government representatives attended the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development which addressed the unsustainable levels of consumption in the developed world, and the overriding poverty and inequity of wealth distribution in the developing world. Running concurrently with the Summit of world leaders was a Local Government Forum that attracted some 1,500 delegates. Providing an opportunity to network and share ideas, this forum clearly demonstrated the importance of Local Government in delivering real, practical and sustainable outcomes.

Local Agenda 21 (LA21), the world’s plan of action for sustainable development, was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Containing over 2,500 recommendations for action, this landmark achievement by the international community incorporates environmental, economic and social concerns into a single framework of action.

The Local Government Forum provided an opportunity to review what has been achieved over the past decade at the local level and plan for future action. On the final day of the forum, a group of three Mayors representing the USA, Australia and Canada called on their Prime Ministers and the President to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. They pointed to the overwhelming support for the following motion passed at the Local Government Forum.

Local Government representatives from Australia, the United States and Canada hereby move that Local Government leaders from around the world join them in urging their national governments to:

  • Ratify the Kyoto Protocol mandating action on reduction of carbon emissions in order to reduce the effects of global climate change.
  • Adopt the Brazilian proposal calling for 10 per cent new renewable energy sources to be created by the year 2010.
  • Support the creation of a solar energy venture fund to create $50 billion in new investment in renewable energy over the next ten years.

Mayor of North Queenland’s Douglas Shire, Mike Berwick, said that the three Mayors believe there is overwhelming support from the community for the ratification of Kyoto and there is ample evidence of this. He pointed out that with the International Cities for Climate Protection Program now operating in 150 municipalities in Australia, covering more than 60 per cent of the population, communities through their Local Authorities were taking matters into their own hands.

Mayor Hazel McCallion from Missassauga, Ontario, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said that sustainable development is about action.

“Canadian municipalities understand the link between sustainable development and the quality of life for their citizens,” she said. “Let’s ratify Kyoto and get on with the job. Local Government is prepared to take action but without a clear framework, without clear targets and without critical financial support, the task will be far more difficult.”

Mayor of Oakland and former Governor of California, Jerry Brown, said that although the three Mayors did not represent all Mayors in each of their respective countries, and would never make that claim, it was very significant that all Mayors at the Local Government Forum had come out in support of the statement.

“I think the fact that the Mayors are prepared to come out with this statement, and that the conference is prepared to pass this motion, shows the level of confidence Local Government representatives have that their communities want this commitment from their national governments,” he said.

Australia’s Local Government delegation called on the Australian Government to sign Kyoto as key countries, including Russia, Canada and India, indicated their commitment to the accord during the Summit. They said despite this, and the overwhelming support from many national governments, Australia and the USA remain steadfastly opposed to committing to acceptable greenhouse targets and are now isolated in the international arena.

Councillor Peter Young from Gold Coast Council in Queensland said that it was vital that other Australians not present at the Summit are aware that Australia as a nation has been highly visible as the ‘partner in crime’ with the United States.

“We have been seen as an outcast, a renegade and a spoiler,” he said. “Looking other country representatives in the eye has not been easy.”

Mayor Mike Berwick said that the Federal Government should not see Kyoto as a threat but as an opportunity to commit to the environment, to business, industry and trade, to build relationships with other countries and to assist the world’s underprivileged.

“Failure to sign up will leave Australia increasingly isolated – the anger towards Australia and America is profound, unnecessary and an embarrassment to all of us at the Summit,” he said. “Despite our concern, we in Local Government remain committed to working with the Commonwealth.”

As well as networking and exchanging ideas through the various case studies presented at the Forum, while in Johannesburg, the Australian Local Government delegation met with the Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp. The Australian Local Government Association Senior Vice President, Mayor Lynn Mason, convened a meeting of approximately 20 Australian Local Government delegates.

“Our one hour meeting with the Minister was extremely positive,” said Mayor Mason. “The Minister acknowledged the significant contribution made by Australian Local Government to sustainability and good governance; particularly through programs and initiatives such as Local Agenda 21, Cities for Climate Protection, and local area environmental plans.”

Dr Kemp said he was impressed to see Agenda 21 as a major driver within the Local Government sector and that uptake of sustainable development was so widespread.

“What the Federal Government has learnt is that environmental solutions are going to be locally based and it is what happens in local communities that matters,” the Minister said. “As a result I would like to see Local Government more involved [in sustainability solutions], not less involved. We need to embody what we do in local expertise and local knowledge. Local Government’s contribution to the enormously important area of governance is very significant. This is one of the critical issues being discussed at this Summit and we see it as a very important opportunity for Australia to seize.”