Australia has come under renewed attack at the Warsaw climate change negotiations, accused of bringing a “hard-line ideological agenda” to the talks and of “killing” investment in low-carbon technologies.
The public criticism came from delegates from developing countries and Europe, and from economists and environmental groups, and the level of despair about Australia’s unrelenting mantra – “no more money, no more ambition” – reached new heights as the talks moved into the high level, ministerial segment.
Delegates and negotiators remain stunned by Australia’s intransigence, and the contrast with its recent constructive involvement in climate change negotiations – up until the election of the Tony Abbott government in early September.
Australia is seen playing a blocking role in numerous points of negotiations – including but not exclusively climate finance, loss and damage, and ambition – all of which are important to enable the talks to move forward and set the path to agreement in Paris in 2015.
They accuse Australia of taking the same text and same script – as though it were on a loop – into various negotiating bodies. Some commented that the team on the ground was struggling to say anything else because there was a lack of guidance from Canberra on how to move forward with negotiations. And, of course, there is no minister attending. The goal of the Australian delegation was described as being consistent and vague, or consistently vague.
The high level ministerial section began in the afternoon on Tuesday. Usually such speeches are couched in diplomatic terms and direct attacks on individual countries are extremely rare in this forum, but the influential G77 (developing countries) and China bloc singled out Australia and Canada for their refusal to show increased ambition on emissions reduction targets.
Fiji’s Jiko Fatafehi Luveni, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, said Australia and Canada’s were not willing to allow the talks to move forward. “This is highly disappointing and regrettably inadequate,” she said.
RenewEconomy had earlier asked EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard about Australia’s role at the Warsaw negotiations. “Which role?” she joked.
Hedegaard said it was not yet clear whether Australia’s domestic policy stance would seep through to the ministerial section of the talks, which will be managed by diplomat Justin Lee in the absence of a bonafide Australian minister. But the signs were not good.
“I was there at the COP (in Bali, 1997) where Australia was applauded for joining the Kyoto Protocol, so in that sense it is regrettable that – that at a time when we need so many countries to move forward – that we see steps backwards.”
Lord Nicholas Stern, eminent economist and head of the Grantham Research Institute, also targeted Australia, along with other countries, for making changes in climate and clean energy policies that he said were killing investment.
“Wherever you look, government-induced policy risk is the biggest deterrent to investment,” Stern said at a side event, to a mostly Australian audience, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, and forestry representatives.
“What we have seen in Europe and in Australia has been government-induced policy risk. It kills investment.”
But the strongest criticism – at least on the public record – came from environmental groups. WWF accused Australia of taking a confrontational approach to the talks.
“Australia has taken an extremely hard line on climate finance, and adopted a confrontational and ideological tone in their comments,” WWF energy expert Mark Lutes said, adding that the issue over climate finance is threatening to cause the negotiations to lose momentum and even stall. He said the “backtracking” of Australia and Japan on emission reduction targets “is casting a pall on negotiations.”
The Green Climate Fund itself also rejected Australian criticisms, particularly Abbott’s recent comments that such a fund was equivalent to “socialism masking as environmentalism” and welfare (a position it has adopted to Australia’s own Clean Energy Finance Corporation).
Manfred Konukiewitz, a German who is co-chair of the of GCF, said he was surprised by Abbott’s comments.
“It is a surprising comment, when you know that you have governments on our board like the UK, Germany and the US, and many others who would not come near anything that looks like socialism.”
He said all these countries had similar institutions in their own countries (all have equivalents to the CEFC and GCF) which they used to mobilise private finance. “This is an element of smart investment that has nothing to do with welfare,” he said.
Elsewhere, speakers criticised countries that were not just refusing finance, but were not coming forward with increased ambition, or were stalling by claiming that natural disasters were not caused by climate change. Australia ticks all three boxes.
UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon said the issue of climate finance was critical, and called specifically on the developed world, and members of the G20 and OECD (Australia is a member of both) to “lead by example”. And, in what could have been a slight against Australia, he said these countries needed to “show political leadership and give political direction to negotiators.”
The UN Environment Program today released a report that said African countries could face adaptation costs of $350 billion a year by 2070 should the 2°C target be significantly exceeded. The cost would be around $US150 billion lower per year if the target was to be met.
In another interesting contrast, Juan Jose Guerra Abud, the minister of Environment and Natural Resources in Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Group, said some countries were “regrettably …. waiting for more disasters to occur before acting.” But he said “nature is beginning to call in our debts.”
Mexico, he said, accounted for around 1.4 per cent of global emissions, about the same as Australia. But Mexico was doing “our bit so we have moral standing to call on other countries to shoulder their commitment. “
But Abbott did get one vocal supporter at these talks – from prominent climate denialist group, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. Spokesman Mark Morano said described coal as the “moral choice” for countries, particularly in the developing world. “Viva Australia – let’s hope the world follows Australia’s model.” One notable member of his audience, apparently, was Tim Wilson, the climate change analyst at Abbott’s favourite think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.