One of the US President Barack Obama’s key advisors on climate change has lambasted Australia for its backflip on climate change policies and its decision to not send a minister to key international climate talks last year.
Heather Zichal, who was lead advisor at the White House on energy and climate change for the first term of Obama’s presidency, noted that climate change policy – like it had been in the US – had unfortunately been politicized.
However, she said this was likely to become an issue at the G20 – which Australia is hosting later this year. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to put climate change on the agenda (he wants a “simple” outcome from the talks), despite pressure from the Obama administration to do so.
“Many in Australia are trying to repeal the carbon tax, and that is an issue that has become more prominent with Australia’s chairmanship of the G20 this year,” Zichal told a conference on energy productivity in Sydney on Thursday.
“But ignoring one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced is simply not an option …. sitting out climate change negotiations is not in Australia’s or any other nations’ interest. It is a huge mistake.”
Last year, Australia chose not to send a minister to the annual climate change negotiations – held in November in Poland – and was widely criticized for an obstructionist role in the back-room talks.
“Facts are facts …. if traditional climate policies are not politically feasible, we just need another credible path forward to emissions reduction,” Zichal said.
“Abbott has said the focus of the G20 should be on economic growth. Economic productivity could be the sweet-spot here.”
The Obama administration has been thwarted in its attempts to introduce a carbon price or an emissions trading scheme in the US, however it has introduced biting regulations that restrict the amount of pollution and emissions on power plants, and imposes strict standards on transport and buildings.
It aims to double energy productivity by 2030 – a target it says will reduce domestic electricity bills by $1000 a year, create more than a million jobs, boost economic growth and reduce emissions by 33 per cent below 2005 levels.
Zichal said Australia should adopt a similar target. “Ultimately, across all economic sectors, energy productivity is the most reliable, cleanest, and cheapest resource.”