Australia must now help a nuclear India
- Neville Roach
- October 3, 2008
The reduction of carbon emissions can be tied to uranium sales.
THE deal on nuclear trade struck between George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved by the United States Congress on Wednesday marks a new era in US-India relations. This agreement, and that with France that followed the September decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow resumption of nuclear trade with India, herald a new de facto non-proliferation framework that has profound implications for Australia's policies on climate change and the exporting of uranium.
No country faces a harder task of responding to climate change than India. With one of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the world, it has to reduce emissions while needing more energy to sustain its recent economic growth. Clearly, with the world's largest carbon footprint, Australia has a moral obligation to make it easier, rather than more difficult, for India to generate energy in the least polluting way.
To tackle its challenge,
India will have to implement every carbon-efficient energy solution available, including solar, wind, biofuels, natural and coal seam gas and the solution strongly advocated by Australia, clean coal. However, the most effective and immediately available solution is unquestionably nuclear power, which produces zero carbon emissions.
To expand its nuclear power production substantially, India needs secure access to the latest technology as well as uranium ore. The importance of gaining such access led Singh to risk his Government by seeking a confidence vote in the Indian Parliament linked to the US nuclear deal.
As the suppliers group decision does not require India to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Australian Government
will need to review its longstanding policy to export uranium only to NPT signatories. This will have profound implications for Australia's relations with India and the world's response to climate change.
A key recommendation of the Prime Minister's 2020 summit was to engage more actively with Australia's four major regional economies — the US, Japan, China and India. The recommendation reflects India's growing importance regionally and globally. Australia is one of the biggest beneficiaries of India's rapid economic growth (Australia has a trade surplus of more than $10 billion a year) and is a major source of skilled migrants, overseas students and tourists.
The Australian Government is paying much more attention to India than ever before.
Trade Minister Simon Crean and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith have visited India this year and have hosted visits to Australia by their Indian counterparts. The
Prime Minister is reported to be planning a visit later this year. However, the uranium issue poses the greatest opportunity, as well as threat, to the bilateral relationship.
The Rudd Government has shown great courage and global leadership by unilaterally committing to a reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 and a carbon trading regime by 2010.
By taking the moral high ground, Australia is in a strong position to persuade other major emitters to follow suit. This influence can be decisive in relation to India if Australia requires it to commit to a reduction in emissions as a prerequisite for access to this country's uranium.
Australia's willingness to support the suppliers group decision and to decouple the issue of uranium exports from the group's waiver has been extremely well received in India and is proof of Australia's commitment to closer relations with India. We now need to go one step further.
While the suppliers group decision lifts the ban on nuclear trade, actual trade depends on bilateral negotiation between individual members and India. The US and French deals, with Russia certain to follow suit, will collectively meet India's technology requirements.
However, the reliable supply of uranium has still to be secured. While Canada is rumoured
to be willing to become a supplier, Australia, with the world's largest uranium reserves, holds the key.
Australia has an excellent record of adapting its policies to changing regional and global realities. A good example was the recognition of China by
the Whitlam government, a visionary decision that has yielded enormous benefits to Australia, our region and the world. A change in policy in relation to uranium exports to India would be equally visionary and generate similar outcomes.
The suppliers group decision does not preclude individual suppliers setting their own conditions for nuclear trade with India. This is what the US and France have done. Australia, too, can and should negotiate its own conditions to deal with its legitimate concerns. India's strong commitment and outstanding record in relation to non-proliferation should encourage the Rudd Government to find a win-win solution.
Without nuclear power, India cannot meet its energy needs as it strives to lift hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty. The good news is that the more India relies on nuclear power, the greater its ability to minimise carbon emissions. Australia will be seen as a true and reliable friend if it helps India in its hour of need.
Neville Roach is chairman emeritus of the Australia-India Business Council.