Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor | July 19, 2008
AN international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be "very, very difficult" to achieve, according to Kevin Rudd.
In an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian, the Prime Minister gave a downbeat assessment of the chances of developed and developing countries bridging the policy gap to produce a workable climate change agreement.
He instead stressed the flexibility of the Australian plan and the need for Australia to move in broad concert with Western, developed nations.
"I approach this with absolute realism," Mr Rudd said.
He said the shape of a global agreement was clear, with developed countries needing to sign up to specific targets, while developing countries had to undertake "verifiable and measurable actions", which would contain enough transparency to make a global agreement possible. Mr Rudd said Australia would need to work "creatively" to make this happen.
However, he is sombre about the chances: "What struck me about the G8 meeting was that, in substantive positions, how far apart everyone is ... I think this is really, really hard."
When asked whether he was committed to keeping the Australian economy commercially competitive through any such process, Mr Rudd said: "Absolutely".
He stressed the flexibility that was built into the Australian plan outlined in the Government's green paper released on Wednesday. "If you look at the green paper, it's quite clear by our gateway approach that we're being entirely mindful of the unfolding global negotiating reality."
This means that if the consensus among developed countries is for more rapid cuts in greenhouse emissions, Australia could match this. However if, as observers believe much more likely, developed nations go slowly, Australia would have the flexibility to go slowly as well.
In his first wide-ranging, foreign policy interview in office, conducted on his VIP jet as he flew from Sydney to Brisbane, Mr Rudd outlined a significant refinement of his proposal for an Asia-Pacific community, sketching it as an extension of the Australian- created Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. Mr Rudd said he wished to "create an agenda to take APEC to the next stage which is unimpeded in terms of its scope to include security matters".
His proposal for an Asia-Pacific community should be regarded as "a modest evolution of what exists". This comment appears to rule out an ambition for Canberra to create a wholly new regional organisation.
Instead, the key organisational task would be to get India admitted to APEC and to get APEC's agenda broadened.
Mr Rudd said he wanted to achieve an Asia-Pacific in which consultation and transparency are habitual.
In other comments, Mr Rudd refused to rule out the possibility of a global recession. He said that the global economy was "not out of the woods yet".
He was sharply critical of China and Russia for recently vetoing a resolution at the UN Security Council calling for tougher sanctions against the Zimbabwe government, describing the veto as "a retrograde step".He also gave in-principle support to Washington's declared policy towards Iran of keeping the military option on the table.
Mr Rudd stressed Australian policy was to support diplomacy to achieve an Iran without nuclear weapons, but said he would not "gainsay" the US position regarding the military option.
He rejected the idea that the US was in decline and said he believed it would continue its role in underwriting Asian security.