November 23, 1996

Clinton presses PM on gas emission limits


President Clinton yesterday used his last formal appearance in Australia to press the Howard Government to abandon its opposition to a world push for legally binding commitments to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Clinton did not name Australia, but he called on the "community of nations to stand together" against the threat of global warming.

Standing in the midday sun in a foreshore park at Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, he said: "A greenhouse may be a good place to raise plants; it is no place to nurture our children. And we can avoid dangerous global warming if we begin today and if we begin together."

The Environment Minister, Senator Hill, who listened to the President's speech, rejected suggestions that it was cause for embarrassment, insisting that Australia was not prepared to give Mr Clinton a "blank cheque".

He said: "None of the detail is there. What are the limits on time frame? How is it to be calculated? None of this has been settled."

Claiming other countries supported Australia's push for voluntary limits on gas emissions, Senator Hill said Australia wanted negotiations to continue towards a fair and achievable outcome.

"Japan and Canada recognise Australia's position and our different economic profiles. And the US is not saying what his targets are."

Mr Howard has been embroiled personally in Australia's increasingly maverick stand, with global warming becoming the world's biggest environmental issue in the run-up to the Kyoto Climate Conference in Japan next November.

In July, Mr Howard accused the US of "acting out of self-interest" after its dramatic switch to support binding targets, saying: "It suits the Americans and the Europeans to take a different line on this issue than Australia."

And in September, Mr Howard was again involved in climate change controversy, after Australia sought to water down a South Pacific Forum communique dealing with greenhouse problems.

Mr Clinton told a crowd of about 500 locals that greenhouse gases released by cars, power stations and burning forests were warming up the planet.

He said: "If they continue unabated, the consequence will be nothing short of devastating for the children here in this audience and their children.

"New weather patterns, lost species, the spread of infectious diseases, damaged economies, rising sea levels - if the present trends continue there is a very real risk that some time in the next century parts of this very park we are here in today could disappear, submerged by a rising ocean."

Before spending the afternoon on the Great Barrier Reef, Mr Clinton appealed for a united international drive to protect the environment.

He said: "Just as [Australia and the US] have been allies for peace and freedom, we must be allies in the 21st century to protect the world environment.

"We know that pollution has contempt for borders - that what comes out of a smokestack on one nation can wind up on the shores of another an ocean away. We know too that recovery and preservation also benefits people beyond the borders of a nation in which it occurs.

"We know that protecting the environment can affect not only our health and our quality of life, it can even affect the peace.

"In too many places, including those about which we read too often now on the troubled continent of Africa, abuses like de-forestation breed scarcity and scarcity aggravates the turmoil which exists all over the world."

Mr Clinton called for a global agreement to stop toxic chemicals and pesticides from being released into the world.