Kyoto Protocol Signing of Instrument of Ratification

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Tonight I am signing a document on behalf of the government to bring about New Zealand’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The last step in the ratification process will be the presentation of the document to the United Nations in New York.

Tonight’s relatively simple act of signing is the culmination of more than a decade’s effort by New Zealand and many other countries to find an effective response to climate change.

It is also the beginning of many more decades of effort.

The world is still in the early stages of a very long journey towards a sustainable future. That future demands a profound transformation of the way modern economies operate.

In our world modern industrial societies have been built with the energy from burning fossil fuels.

That progress has enriched our lives, but it has also changed the very atmosphere of our planet, and in so doing has changed the earth’s climate systems.

On a global scale, the trend of steadily increasing consumption of fossil fuels and steadily growing greenhouse gas emissions must be broken.

There is a need on a global basis to move to a new track of increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, with steadily reducing emissions.

This is a huge challenge, and will demand the full measure of human ingenuity.

But it is a challenge humankind has created for itself – and I believe it is one we are capable of meeting.

Humans invented the fossil fuel economy not that long ago.

One day we will look back at it as we look back now at the ages of horse power and sail power.

It is important that New Zealand catch the next wave in energy technology, rather than watch it pass by.

The countries who catch that wave will be those within the Kyoto Protocol, because the Protocol creates the conditions for change.

It creates a more favourable market for renewable and low-emission energy. It also will spur innovation and efficiency in the way we use energy and natural resources.

Creating and embracing innovation and new technology is the way to thrive in the new global economy, and is central to New Zealand’s future.

Our government wants New Zealand to be part of the energy shift driven by the Protocol, and not be a nation left behind for fear of change.

New Zealand faces challenges in finding ways to reduce agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases. But that too opens up opportunities for us.

Among developed nations, New Zealand is unique in having about half its total emissions coming from agriculture.

No other developed nation has as much reason to do the research necessary to find a solution. Fortunately our scientific expertise in pastoral agriculture is world class.

A research strategy for tackling agricultural emissions is being developed. I have no doubt that New Zealand will be at the forefront of innovation in this field.

A decade ago at the Earth Summit in Rio, the international community acknowledged the seriousness of climate change and agreed to act.

New Zealand was early to recognise the risks and support international co-operation. Hon Simon Upton played an important role during the 1990s as Minister for the Environment, and Hon Pete Hodgson has carried on with that work. It is important also to acknowledge tonight the many years of work from government officials leading up to New Zealand ratification of this Protocol.

The New Zealand economy is still heavily reliant on a stable, equable climate that is ideal for pastoral farming.

That means climate change is actually an issue of economic security for this country.

But climate change recognises no borders, and New Zealand cannot act effectively alone.

We need successful international action, and we must be prepared to be part of multilateralism on the environment as we are on so many issues as wide-ranging as disarmament, human rights, and trade.

New Zealand was quick to sign and ratify the first international compact, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

That agreement called for voluntary commitments by developed countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately the voluntary approach did not work. Emissions kept growing.

At the same time, the scientific evidence suggesting the need for action grew in weight and volume.

A broad consensus emerged among policymakers worldwide that something stronger than a voluntary agreement was necessary.

That is why the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997, with its legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

New Zealand played a full role in the negotiation of the Protocol.

For many years we have worked closely with other countries to get a fair outcome.

We worked to ensure that the Protocol gave individual countries choices in how they would meet their targets.

In July 2001, in Bonn, at the sixth conference of parties, the international community finally made the breakthrough.

The details were nailed down in Marrakech last year.

The Kyoto Protocol is a coherent, workable, and flexible agreement.

Given the scale and complexity of the problem of climate change, the Protocol is a remarkable achievement. Yet it still represents only the beginning of dealing effectively with the problem.

The emission targets set for the first commitment period are a small first step toward the reductions that will be necessary.

The Protocol will also need to become a fully global agreement.

New Zealand hopes that in due course all those nations which have signed the Protocol will ratify it.

We accept the consensus of the mid 1990s that developed nations should be the first to take on binding emissions targets.

The developed world is, after all, responsible for the lion’s share of the emissions causing global warming.

We enjoy the benefits of a century and more of intense fossil fuel consumption.

We cannot say to developing nations that we will not act until they agree to share the consequences.

Developing nations’ emissions are growing rapidly. The time will come for those nations to begin accepting binding targets as we have done.

Negotiating that step is the next climate change challenge for the international community.

A determined and credible effort by the developed world to meet its commitments will prepare the way.

It is likely that the Protocol will come into force next year when Russia ratifies.

The Canadian Parliament is expected to vote for ratification in the coming days.

Canada’s ratification, together with Russia’s commitment to ratify, means that every member of the G8, except the United States, will come into the Kyoto framework.

Britain, the nations of the European Union, and Japan have already ratified. As at 13 November, 97 countries in total had ratified.

New Zealand has taken the time necessary to develop the domestic policies which will enable us to achieve our emissions target under the Protocol.

We have consulted extensively on these policies.

We have designed them to maintain the international competitiveness of our industries and our economy as a whole.

We move into the Kyoto era with a confident eye on the opportunities in the new global markets which the Protocol will create.

I am proud of New Zealand’s contribution to the international response to climate change.

This nation has worked hard and well on a problem which is not only of major global importance, but is also of particular significance for our South Pacific neighbours as well as for our own economic security.

In ratifying the Protocol, we now begin to follow through with the action necessary to achieve real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This places New Zealand among the nations growing new economies fuelled by sustainable energy. It also places us as a nation prepared to work constructively with others to find solutions to the pressing international problems of our time.