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NEWS RELEASE February 24, 2000


Australia must follow New Zealand’s decision to ratify the United Nation’s climate treaty to reduce greenhouse pollution or risk being internationally disadvantaged, Greenpeace said today.

New Zealand’s announcement of its intention to ratify the United Nation’s climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, raises the political stakes about whether the Kyoto Protocol will come into force in the next two years. Australia is now isolated with the U.S. and Canada in refusing to agree to ratify and should now change its policy position.

"Australia and New Zealand have been part of a group of countries blocking the Kyoto Protocol," said Angie Heffernan, Greenpeace Pacific climate campaigner.

"New Zealand’s decision to leave this grouping, following Japan, which changed position in late 1999, increases the likelihood that in the next two years we will have a legally binding international climate treaty. "This is a big step forward, and we are calling on the South Pacific Forum Leaders to urge Australia to follow New Zealand’s lead."

Heffernan says Pacific Island states are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. "Many in the region are already experiencing changing weather patterns. We have seen severe droughts in PNG, Fiji and parts of the Cook Islands, and typhoons in the Marshall Islands, Cooks and French Polynesia over the last two years. These events have put immense pressure on the economies of the affected countries and have contributed to a lot of social and health problems. And climate scientists say we can expect to see more frequent and severe weather events in future".

For many small island atoll nations, the threat of becoming environmental refugees in the near future is very real. Island nations such as Tuvalu are now looking to their bigger developed nations to help them address this imminent threat, which is not of their own making.

" The stark reality is that we cannot relocate the whole Pacific. This is not an issue of economics but a moral and ethical issue. It is imperative that developed nations like Australia who are responsible for historical emissions that are causing climate change, ratify the climate treaty and cut their greenhouse gas emissions. They also need to consider their own role in creating future climate refugees and offer solutions", says Heffernan.

Australia is one of the JUSCANZ countries (Japan, U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand) which have continually stifled climate change negotiations. At the last Conference of the Parties (COP5) in Germany in late 1999 the political momentum increased for the Kyoto Protocol to come into force, with European Union countries and Japan all agreeing to ratify by 2002.

"The Australian government insists that the Kyoto agreement won’t come into force unless the U.S. ratifies. This is Australia burying its head in the sand when the reality is the Kyoto protocol can come into force without the U.S. Australia should join more progressive countries like New Zealand in ensuring that international measures are taken to prevent dangerous climate change," said Heffernan.

"For many Pacific Island nations it is vital that the climate treaty enters into force, because it is a matter for survival for them. Australia’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol shows it’s total disregard and irresponsibility for it’s Pacific neighbors," says Heffernan.

For more information, call Angie Heffernan at (679) 312 861.

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