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Australia distances itself from progressive nations in climate talks

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LIMA: Australia has distanced itself from the group of “progressive” nations – known as the Cartagena Dialogue – that it helped found nearly 5 years ago, in yet another move that is colouring the Abbott government’s policy position at the climate talks in Lima, a critical staging post towards an expected global agreement in Paris next year.

Australia, along with the UK and other countries, co-founded the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action in 2010 after the collapse of the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009. It was designed to try and secure the “middle ground” in the often fractious climate change negotiations, and was highly influential at the Cancun and Durban talks in particular in bridging the gap between developing and developed nations.

Officially, the dialogue is open to countries working towards an “ambitious, comprehensive, and legally binding regime in the UNFCCC, and committed, domestically, to becoming or remaining low carbon economies.” That doesn’t sound like Australia right now. Although it should be noted that not all Cartagena’s 30-something members, such as New Zealand, which acts as its spokesman, agree with principal of binding targets.

Australia has not formally cut ties with the Cartagena group (yet), but it has not taken part in official Cartagena talks or activities at Lima.  That may be partly explained by the fact that Australia has arrived in Lima with just 14 delegates (not 12 as we reported before) – its lowest in 20 years – and is effectively short-staffed. Delegates from other countries say that Australia’s voice is barely heard in comparison with previous talks.

lima talksHowever, the decision to drop Cartagena down its list of priorities adds to the “atmospherics” around the Australian government policy position.

This is the first climate conference since Australia dumped the carbon price, and yet market mechanisms are once again at the fore of discussions as the best means to bridge the emissions gap to reach the target of 2C; Australia has rejected overtures to contribute to the climate fund; it has cut funding to UNEP,  reacted with anger when climate change was mentioned at the G20, has rejected the idea that the Great Barrier Reef is threatened by climate change, has not yet started on work on its post 2020 emissions targets, and says it “stands by coal”, when the focus of these talks is a move away from fossil fuels.

All this as news came today that Germany announced that it would “triple” its efforts to reduce emissions and said it would reach its 40 per cent emission reduction target by 2020, despite a small increase in coal-fired generation in the last few years. The initiative includes a major focus on energy efficiency, and will likely result in the forced closure of coal fired generators.

On Monday, Germany’s biggest utility, E.ON, said it would dump its fossil fuel investments and focus instead on renewables, distributed generation, storage and consumer services. The portfolio it will sell is equal to the entire Australian generation fleet. Vattenfall, another major utility, is also seeking to sell its brown coal generators.

Norway, meanwhile, said its $US870 billion sovereign wealth fund will review its coal, oil and gas investments to “weed out” the worst climate offenders,  and recognised the risk of stranded assets, while the Bank of England is to study the “carbon bubble”, and whether continued investment of up to $1 trillion in fossil fuels each year risks sparking a market collapse and create the biggest risk to financial markets since the sub-prime property crisis of 2007.

And earlier today, the World Meteorological Organisation said the world is heading towards its hottest year ever, as greenhouse gas emissions also rise. It said there is no evidence of a standstill in global warming, with the oceans absorbing much of the heat caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The Australian government’s policy position has been a major frustration for many countries at these talks, and foreign minister Julie Bishop will be under intense pressure on the issue of climate funding, and Australia’s pre-2020 and post 2020 targets, when she arrives on Monday.

Curiously, Bishop is leaving on Thursday, and so is Andrew Robb, the man reportedly – and controversially – handpicked to “chaperone” Bishop at these talks. Both arrive late Monday. The timing is curious because most of the major ministerial level decisions are made on the last two days of the conference. Environment minister Greg Hunt does not have international climate change talks within his bailiwick, and so is not here. In Warsaw, there was no ministerial attendance.

The Cartagena Dialogue is not an official voting block, but the Australian government was mighty proud of its role and helped fund its establishment. That enthusiasm, under the Labor government, can be found here, on the website of the now dismantled climate change department.

“The Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action (Cartagena Dialogue) is an excellent example of how a progressive minority of countries can make a difference in the international arena. Now an established and influential coalition in the international climate change talks, the Cartagena Dialogue evolved out of the efforts of a small group of developed and developing countries with a shared national interest in securing ambitious global action on climate change.

“Australia has played an active role in the development of the Cartagena Dialogue. During the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, Australia and the United Kingdom initiated small-room discussions around the potential for small to middle-sized powers, from across the development spectrum, to work together to secure real, timely and measurable action to reduce the threat posed by climate change.

“It was envisaged that a small group could draw on the voices of compromise in the negotiations and empower the ‘middle ground’.”

Earlier this year, the group met in the Marshall Islands and vowed to “shift gears,” “raise the political tempo” and “accelerate preparations now to bring forward [their] post-2020 emission reduction targets as early as possible next year in time to seal an ambitious new agreement in Paris.” None of which Australia is doing, of course, and Australia was criticised at the time for sending only a relatively junior official to the discussions.

Marshall Islands is a prominent member of AOSIS – the Alliance of Small Island States – which this week said it would pledge a complete phase out of fossil fuels by 2050. That earned them a “ray of the day” at Lima from environmental NGOs. Switzerland got the “fossil of the day” for bullying small nations over climate finance, proving that Australia is not the only country in the bad books. OPEC nations and other members of the “Like Minded Developing Countries”  have also been accused of using stalling tactics in negotiations over the text to be produced for Paris.

Australia is also at odds with some Cartagena group members over the issue of “loss and damage”, and their demand that developed countries establish a fund to compensate for the cost of natural disasters.

The Cartagena group includes “moderate” countries such as the UK, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Peru, Chile and Costa Rica and Mexico. It also includes small island and African states such as Antigua & Barbuda, Burundi, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, and Samoa.

 

 

   

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