Foreign Minister Julie Bishop flies into Lima on Monday seemingly determined to pick a fight – or at least a shirt-front – with Australia’s biggest trading partner, China. Many of the other 194 countries at the climate talks here would like to do the same to Australia.
Ever since Australia was blind-sided by the US-China climate deal unveiled by their two leaders just before the G20 meeting last month, and Barack Obama dared to mention the “C” word in Brisbane, the Abbott government has been determined to down-play the groundbreaking pact between the world’s two biggest emitters.
In reported remarks that stunned delegates and observers at the talks here in Lima, Bishop described China’s commitment to cap its emissions before 2030 as nothing more than business as usual.
“China has already said that it will continue business as usual until 2030,” Bishop told Associated Press in an interview, in comments that seemed deliberately calibrated to antagonise the Chinese, and to puncture the positive momentum that the deal has brought to these talks.
China and Australia have already crossed swords this past week over the issue of climate finance, with Australia refusing to contribute to the UN Green Climate Fund, which aims to raise $100 billion a year in government and private finance and is seen as critical to gain agreement between developed and developing countries. China’s lead negotiator Su Wei last week described Australia’s decision as “disappointing.”
Analysts and observers say that Bishop’s assessment of China’s efforts is plain wrong. Even before the China-US deal, experts such as Bernie Fraser and Ross Garnaut, noted both the US and China were clearly doing more than Australia, and that was reason enough for Australia to do more.
“If implementing carbon pricing, seeing a peak in coal consumption around 2020, and building renewable energy capacity the size of its current coal capacity is business as usual for China, Australia should be reconsidering its own business as usual path,” the Climate Institute’s Erwin Jackson said.
But that’s not Australia’s intentions. Its position as an outlier – acquired since the election of Abbott delivered domestic slogans to the international stage – has been reinforced at these talks by a series of provocative actions and remarks.
In what appears to have been a deliberate pattern of moves, Australia has refused climate finance, downplayed the actions of the two most influential players at the talks, cut funding to a key UN body, distanced itself from a group of progressive nations, joined with others to delete text that would require a review of its pre-2020 commitment, and sent a climate skeptic minister (Andrew Robb) to accompany Bishop at the talks.
Bishop has even contradicted Australian scientists and the UN scientific body by claiming the Great Barrier Reef was not threatened by climate. And Environment minister Greg Hunt has described Australia’s emission reduction actions to date – it hasn’t actually lowered industrial emissions, and has been given a free pass by a generous interpretation of its land use – as the country’s “great gift to the world”.
They are all clear signs that Australia is digging in to resist calls for greater action. Negotiators says that Australia’s insistence that any agreement in Paris be legally binding on all countries – an issue reinforced by Bishop in the AP interview – will be used as an excuse to reject higher targets. There is little expectation that the Paris treaty will binding, but strong arguments to suggest it will still be effective.
Australia is digging in because it would find it difficult to increase its ambition beyond and before 2020 because it has little means to do so under current policy. If it was to engage to more ambitious targets next year, the question to be put to the Coalition would be, well how the hell do you expect to reach that without a carbon price.
One option it has is to use the “Safeguards” mechanism under Direct Action to adjust its baselines and set up a de-facto carbon market in a so-called baseline and credit scheme. It would be the carbon price Australia has when it’s not having a carbon price, like the levies which not really taxes, or the funding cuts to the ABC which are in fact “efficiency dividends.”
Climate finance is the biggest and most immediate issue for Bishop at Lima – because of its importance to developing countries – and Bishop is certain to meet a cool response to Australia’s stance.
Another issue will be Australia’s emission targets. It is resisting calls to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in the first quarter of 2015, partly because it chooses to ignore the work done by the Climate Change Authority, which it wants to dismantle, and has yet to start its own internal review of its options.
Australia, however, has sought to recast its emissions target, by swapping the starting date from 2000 to 2005. Bishop, again in the AP interview, quoted figures presented by Origin Energy CEO Grant King on Friday that says Australia is pulling its weight among its peers.
Origin is a key investor in the massive LNG plants that analysts say will make Australia’s 5% reduction target almost impossible to meet, and has also been trying to recast comparisons away from per capita assessments (which make Australia look bad, and India and China look good), to per GDP assessments (which makes rich country like Australia look good and developing and undeveloped economies in Asia, Africa and South America look bad).
The Abbott government has been as quick to pick up Origin’s talking points as it has to pick up Big Coal’s PR spin on coal being the answer to energy poverty, and the fossil fuel attack on renewables as a cost impost on consumer bills.
Indeed, this graph above suggests that Bishop may have gotten her talking point about China being focused on nothing more than business as usual from King himself. Note the comments on the right, and the big red line of China’s emissions, which Origin presumes will accelerate when most others thing it will moderate in come years.
But analysis from The Climate Institute contradicts Origin’s assessment. It suggests that if economy wide emissions are taken into account, and not just energy emissions, Australia is trailing most of its peers. (Click graph to enlarge).
But these are just details. And like the assessments of Australia’s dumping of the carbon price, the limits of Direct Action, the attack on the renewable energy target, the proposed dumping of the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the big cut to funds in the CSIRO, and the omission of cleantech from international trade deals, it will likely be ignored.
Australia’s position is set. It ain’t for moving. Bishop’s visit should be interesting.