Transcript of doorstop interview, Washington DC: 21 April 2010 –

Penny Wong: Thanks very much for coming. I wanted to make brief comments about this trip to Washington. First I’ve had meetings today and yesterday with members of the Senate and members of the Administration. I want to make a couple of key points about where climate issues are heading and how they’re being discussed here in the US.

The first point is this: as President Obama said on The 7:30 Report recently, there are a couple of key things you have to have if you’re going to tackle climate change. One is a price on carbon. And the second is that you need to do that through a market mechanism. As the President said, that’s a more efficient way of addressing climate change. It’s the key way you can tackle climate change. And he contrasted it to a command and control approach, which is really the sort of thing that Tony Abbott is offering.

Another key impression I’ve taken out of the meetings I’ve had is this: that very much, here in the US, these climate issues are very much seen through the prism of the competitiveness of the US economy. And there’s a very strong sense that the US recognises – that people here in the United States recognise – that this is key to their international competitiveness in the future. They don’t want to be left behind when it comes to the clean energy economy. They don’t want clean energy jobs not to be developed here but to be developed elsewhere. It’s a good reminder for us in Australia as to why we also need to ensure we’re not left behind in the race to a clean energy economy.

Finally, I spent yesterday in the Major Economies Forum, a forum hosted through President Obama, by the United States, with all the major emitters, all the major economies of the world. And I want to make a couple of comments about that.

First, it’s very clear in that meeting that the Copenhagen Accord has garnered widespread support; in excess of 86 per cent of the world’s economy have signed up to it. The vast majority of the emissions of the world are represented by the parties who have associated with the Accord.

We were updated yesterday on the ways in which various nations are already implementing action under the Accord. It’s clear that this Accord is a significant step forward. It’s central to international action on climate change. What we have to keep doing is what Australia is working with the United States and other countries to do, and that is to implement it and operationalise it. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Well that’s far more upbeat than a lot of other people have been, including Todd Stern, who briefed reporters last night, saying that, you know, don’t get your hopes up, that this is not going as quickly or as well as people might hope.

WONG: I think we all know after Copenhagen that the objective of getting a legally binding agreement is some way off. To that extent, Copenhagen didn’t deliver what we hoped. It didn’t deliver a legally binding, full-blown treaty.

But that doesn’t mean action isn’t occurring. And we also have under the Accord, for the first time, we have major developing and developed economies side-by-side saying, “We’re all going to do this.”

JOURNALIST: Todd Stern said that there won’t be a new treaty this year. He’s wiped it out even for this year. And the sense certainly in America is that you’re right about the economy, the economy is struggling. So the environment and climate change has gone to the bottom of the priorities.

WONG: Well on that last issue, I think, obviously the US debate is a matter for the United States. But I again make this point: China isn’t slowing down in its investment in renewable energy. They have, when I last looked, the largest installed capacity of renewable energy in the world. They understand this is about ensuring in tomorrow’s economy, that they’re going to able to compete. I think many political leaders and business leaders in Australia and the US understand that we don’t want our countries to not be able to compete in that space as well.

JOURNALIST: Do you see convergence of ideas in terms of what the Cancun – in terms of what should happen in Cancun?

WONG: I think there’s no doubt that we’ve got a lot of work to do at Cancun and beyond. We know that Copenhagen didn’t deliver a legally binding outcome. It delivered a political consensus. The question is how we take that political consensus forward. I hope Cancun can make constructive, positive steps in some key issues. There certainly are some key issues we need to operationalise. And what we’ve got to focus on is taking the political consensus in the Accord, the political consensus that is shared by the majority of the world’s economy, and translate that into operative arrangements.

JOURNALIST: In terms of actually having something legally binding in Cancun, is that realistic?

WONG: I think that’s always in the hands of the parties, isn’t it? I think that that’s yet to be determined. What we’re focused on is how do we translate that consensus in the Accord into implementation, into operative arrangements internationally.

JOURNALIST: But you’ve been with the major economies yesterday. Do you think that there is…

WONG: I think it is probably too early to indicate with any degree of accuracy what the outcome in Cancun is likely to be. Thanks very much.