A LEADING Australian climate change lawyer has applauded last Saturday’s National Climate Change Summit, as the question of a national carbon trading scheme draws more attention from major political and legal players alike.
But as many Australian firms hurriedly build on fledgling climate change practices, Baker & McKenzie partner Martijn Wilder says it will be hard for any real progress to be made until a framework of national regulation is in place.
“I think the truth is, now that it’s an issue, a lot of law firms are starting to want to establish a client practice,” Wilder said.
“A number of firms in Australia are saying ‘we’re going to be looking at climate change’, and putting out a lot of press material.
“[But] it is still a little way off in Australia. It tends to be more something [that other Australia firms] do on the side.”
While international firms are increasing their focus on climate work, Australian firms are being kept waiting by the slow grind of politics.
Wilder said Baker & McKenzie, is able to circumvent this with its substantial global network.
“I think the reason we get a lot of work in Australia is because we’re doing a lot of international work with companies,” Wilder said.
“We know what companies are thinking. And also because a lot of the work we do is for clients going overseas, and we’ve got experience in those markets they want to go to.”
Wilder was a panel member at the first and only national summit in Canberra last Saturday, convened by Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd.
He said the summit was hugely important and encouraging given the entire Opposition front bench attended, along with every state and territory premier, except Queensland’s Peter Beattie and NSW’s Morris Iemma, and a host of leading experts in the field.
Rudd described the gathering as “an enormous pool of national assets”.
In failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Wilder said “Australia has been long criticised [in the international community] for not doing anything on climate, which isn’t entirely true”.
“The Federal Government has a lot of soft initiatives. But at the end of the day, while it’s all important, in terms of what the scientists are telling us what needs to be achieved, it’s all just fringe work around the edges … we’re not doing any significant measurers to look at ways to reduce our emissions.”
Among the newest initiatives from the Federal Government was the announcement last week by Prime Minister John Howard to make clean development and climate change a key discussion topic at the upcoming APEC Economic Leaders Meeting.
But while Labor has pledged to set up a national emissions trading scheme, we will have to wait until the end of May for Liberal’s response to a report by a taskforce commissioned to evaluate the merits of any such scheme.
And although the specifics of a scheme are yet to be agreed upon, there is no doubt in Wilder’s mind that it is inevitable.
“At the end of the day we’ve got to have a look at an emissions trading scheme that links to what’s going on globally.”
“I think it’s true that the Liberals will come out with some significant policy statement, and Labor is looking to do the same, the question is what they will do,” he said.
Wilder was part of the panel discussion on national and international emissions trading schemes, moderated by Greg Borne, president of the World Wildlife Fund, formerly president of BP Australasia and special advisor on energy to United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The head of Baker & McKenzie’s global climate change practice, Wilder is also chair of the NSW Premier’s working group on the greenhouse advisory panel, and a member on the governing board of global public-private partnership REEEP (renewable energy & energy efficiency partnership).