LIMA: In a tent city erected in a military compound on the outskirts of Lima that the locals dub the “little Pentagon”, Australia is already feeling the heat of the 20th international climate talks.
The Peruvian capital has a relatively benign climate – little rain, and regular temperatures of around 22C at this time of year. But the air-conditioning – particularly in the massive tents that house the plenary sessions in the Cuartel General del Ejército del Perú – is just not up to scratch. Some would say it’s like a greenhouse. But if it was designed to short speeches, it has had the opposite outcome. That must be the greenhouse gas effect.
That’s not the least of the problems for the Australian delegation, though, which made headlines with its newly obstructive attitude in Warsaw, soon after the election of Tony Abbott, and found itself isolated on the issue of climate change at the G20 meeting it hosted in Brisbane last month.
In Warsaw, Australia made nearly a clean sweep of the “fossil of the day” awards for its about face negotiating position. In Lima, it has started with the same notoriety, winning the inaugural fossil of the day award – along with Austria, Belgium and Ireland, for failing to contribute funds to the Green Climate Fund, the international financing mechanism that Tony Abbott has churlishly labelled the Bob Brown bank.
And in Lima, unlike some delegations, Australia has a modest office, one small room, a small fridge and an Australian flag out the front. And someone in the UN has a sense of humour because its most immediate neighbour is the United Nations Environment Program, which has warned that most of the world’s fossil fuels should remain in the ground, on one side; and to which Australia has just slashed is funding by 80 per cent. That should make for a good conversation piece.
Its other neighbours are the International Emissions Trading Association, which recommends an international carbon price on the other (although it has a number of fossil fuel members in its books). And its nearest country office – across the corridor – is Germany, whose leader rebuked Australia following the G20 meeting last month and which is at the forefront of pushing the EU to ambitious emission reduction targets.
The fact that Australia has such modest lodgings within the delegation compound (even Indonesia is holding an expo with talks and presentations) is the result of Australia coming to Lima with its smallest delegation in two decades. Just 12 people.
Given that the Coalition used to rib the Labor Party over the size of its delegations – particularly to Copenhagen where it had more than 100 – then the reduction in air miles is possibly the most tangible reduction in emissions that the Coalition government has achieved to date. Direct Action at work.
In the meantime, Australia has to juggle its stonewalling on emission reduction targets and climate finance with its responsibilities as members of various voting blocks within the UN talks.
Australia is the lead spokes-country for the Umbrella Group, which unites non-EU developed countries with as diverse a view on climate action as Norway, the US, New Zealand, Canada, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Today, Australia’s newest environment ambassador, the respected diplomat Peter Woolcott who heads Australia’s delegation, gave the opening remarks on behalf of the Umbrella Group.
Woolcott underlined the importance of being committed to strong and effective action on climate change, and also the importance of ensuring that funds flow through climate finance. None of this was controversial in itself – apart from the fact that it came from the representative of a country that has paid lip service to such ideas – and in the case of climate finance has been openly hostile – in the last 14 months.
As one member of a delegation within the Umbrella Group told RenewEconomy during the long bus trip through Lima’s traffic-choked streets: “They are very nice people, I just don’t like their policies.”