Australia plays wrecker on the world climate stage
A decade ago it was China that blocked momentum for real climate action at the UN’s Copenhagen summit – now Australia is the bad actor. Our emissions reduction minister, Rhodes scholar Angus Taylor, attended Madrid briefly to pick up a couple of Fossil of the Day awards, and left early as head of an Australian delegation whose contribution was described by one observer as “cynical, irresponsible and ultimately destructive”. Taylor returns to a nation suffering its worst ever drought, unprecedented bushfires and a heatwave that appears to have delivered Australia’s hottest day on record. Yet on his return, Taylor is spinning the same hollow lines, telling [$] The Australian Financial Review that our “track record for finding additional abatement year-on-year has been extraordinary”. After courting global controversy, and without any policy to back him up, Taylor even suggests that Australia could meet its 2030 targets without using dodgy carry-over credits. “Complete rubbish,” says shadow climate and energy minister Mark Butler.
A flick back through Kevin Rudd’s memoir The PM Years reminds us of a time when Australia played a constructive role on the world stage. At a crucial heads-of-government negotiating-group meeting, Rudd pulled a swifty when the chair, Danish prime minister Lars Rasmussen, left the room without explanation after hours of turgid argument, frustrated particularly by the Chinese. Rudd told the group he had been asked to continue chairing the meeting in Rasmussen’s absence. “This was not true,” Rudd wrote in his memoir, “but for all I knew Lars was simply responding to a call of nature.” The subsequent three hours of negotiations nutted out the Copenhagen Accord, which was not formally adopted until the next round of talks in Cancun, but helped form the basis of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
In Madrid last week, Australia joined with Brazil and the US to block adoption of rules for international carbon markets and other forms of cooperation under article 6 of the Paris deal, which comes into effect from next year. After helping to thwart the agreement, Taylor told the AFR: “It would have been better for it [article 6] to be resolved this year. It means it’s a priority to be solved next year. Australia doesn’t plan to use international credits. However, Australian companies may want to use them in their international operations and we think it’s important to have a market that has integrity.”
Mark Butler describes the role Australia now plays on climate globally as a tragedy. “We should be, at an international conference like this, playing our traditional, constructive role … Instead we’ve been blocking progress. Our approach in Madrid was particularly destructive to the development of the trading arrangements that are supposed to come out of chapter six, which I think will be really important for farm owners and landowners in Australia who are keen to start investing in carbon farming. But also, a really destructive approach to the goal of building higher ambition more broadly in the globe, because we know that the sum total of all of the commitments that the world’s nations have currently made will still take us beyond three degrees of global warming which would be catastrophic.”
Even after just one degree of warming, Australians have had quite enough climate catastrophe already, and this hellish summer promises only more and worse. In the past 24 hours alone, Indigenous leaders have toldGuardian Australia that they fear Alice Springs will soon be too hot for humans, and Western Australian Naomi Brown, former chief of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authority and a member of the Emergency Leaders for Climate, has told [$] The Australian that Australia would have worse scorching summers and uncontrollable fires unless action was taken now: “This is climate change, we are seeing it … We can’t keep digging up fossil fuels and shipping it out.” Meanwhile, ABARES says climate change has slashed the value of Australia’s annual crop production by more than $1 billion dollars over the last 20 years, and the International Energy Agency says [$] our coal exports are set to rise over the next five years, driven by demand in India, China and South-East Asia.
Butler says the government’s own emissions data, released earlier this month, shows Australia has not beaten its Kyoto 2020 target, and is not on track to meet its inadequate Paris 2030 targets either. “We don’t have an energy policy beyond next year, which is when the renewable energy target runs out, which is why renewables investment has dropped by 60 per cent this year. We don’t have a transport policy, so we’re the only OECD nation which doesn’t have fuel-efficiency standards on its cars, so transport emissions are going up and people are paying more at the bowser than they need to. We don’t have any controls on emissions from major industrial polluters, because Abbott got rid of them. So it’s no wonder really, that we’re not going to meet our targets, because there’s a deliberate decision by the government to let emissions keep rising.”
How do Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison think this story ends?
“I have many criticisms of Scott Morrison. One of them isn’t when he chooses to go on leave with his family … That’s a matter for him. My criticism of him is about his complacency and his failure in areas like this. His failure to develop a national economic plan to deal with the sluggish economy. His failure to have a national drought strategy and his failure to have a national energy policy.”
“The Government determined that documents relating to the 13 November Senate order could, if publicly released, damage commercial interests and risk reputational damage to companies involved in open tender processes, while the potential release of private information submitted during program applications would create an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”
“I should say at the outset that we believe that the question of whether or not there is a conflict in any particular matter is always a difficult one. It seems to us that the right parties to make the judgement about whether there’s a conflict are the FRC, the government and Mr Edge. I understand they’ve had those discussions. They concluded that there isn’t a conflict in this particular case. But we are acutely conscious … of the way that community attitudes are changing in a whole host of areas, and this is an example of one of them.”
PwC partner and public policy leader Jan McCahey confirms to a parliamentary inquiry that former PwC partner Bill Edge remains on the auditor’s payroll as part of its retirement payment plan even though he is also chair of the Financial Report Council, which advises the government on audit quality.
“The son of dissident parents, he left Russia almost a decade ago because he was exhausted by living in a political culture of ‘flagrant lies and paranoid conspiracies’, one in which Vladimir Putin’s grand strategy was to promote a manufactured nostalgia, to restore the Russian empire and take ‘Russia off its knees’. Sound familiar? It’s Pomerantsev’s belief that the West is following Russia along the same path.”
“‘Being free is being alone?’ asks Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), the subject of the titular portrait, about a third of the way into French auteur Céline Sciamma’s evocative, impeccable Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Though Héloïse is not offered a neat answer at the time, the topic of freedom and all of its gendered intricacies is probed adroitly, from sexual politics and class structure, to, curiously, 18th-century psychedelics. It is a slow burn figuratively, and, as its name suggests, quite literally too.”
“We don’t know for sure if Nero played violin while Rome burnt. If it did happen, it was likely a different instrument, perhaps a kithara. But that other question – of whether a leader could be so frivolous and uncaring in the face of such catastrophe – was answered this week by Scott Morrison.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
A decade ago it was China that blocked momentum for real climate action at the UN’s Copenhagen summit – now Australia is the bad actor. Our emissions reduction minister, Rhodes scholar Angus Taylor, attended Madrid briefly to pick up a couple of Fossil of the Day awards, and left early as head of an Australian delegation whose contribution was described by one observer as “cynical, irresponsible and ultimately destructive”. Taylor returns to a nation suffering its worst ever drought, unprecedented bushfires and a heatwave that appears to have...