Will Australia be to world climate talks what Poland is to Europe?

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Europe has made the first substantive commitments of any major polluter towards an international climate deal. It puts a lie to Abbott government claims that the world is not acting, but raises fears that Australia could expand its role as a spoiler in international climate deal.

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Close, but no cigar. That was the general reaction to the EU decision last week to lift its ambition on emissions reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The EU announced it had reached a deal to lift its emissions reduction target to a cut of 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, lift the penetration of renewable energy to 27 per cent of total energy use by the same date, and to set an equivalent energy efficiency target.

It was claimed as a significant breakthrough by the EU itself, even if it disappointed others on the scale of its ambition. It was, after all, just the first substantive gesture by any of the major emitters in the lead up to the crucial climate talks in Paris next year; the opening gambit in a game of chess that will ultimately be heavily dominated by the major players, the king and queen of greenhouse emissions, China and the US.EU-flag

Environmental NGOs were aghast that the EU undertaking was the bare minimum of what is required to meet the EU’s own long-term targets, and complained that the EU had missed its chance for leadership. Even the business lobby groups had wanted more biting and certain targets. Utilities analysts felt the fossil fuel industry got off lightly.

But in reality it is just the first engagement of what will be a vigorous international process that will continue for the next 15 months and beyond. The key language is that the EU aims for a target of “at least” 40 per cent reductions. In reality, it will need to be much higher.

“That sends a strong signal to the international community and I hope that the signal is being received today in Washington, in Beijing and other big economies so that they will prepare their ambitions accordingly,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Now investors, businesses, everyone will know that this is where we are headed – these are the targets.”

Still, even if it was a messy compromise, it has an impact on what is happening, and will happen, in Australia. Firstly, it puts paid to the claim in Australian government circles that the EU is not acting. Europe continues to regard carbon pricing as its primary mechanism, and has now agreed to extend it “economy-wide” to agriculture, buildings, and transport; and its renewables target covers all energy – so it actually translates into a target of more than 40 per cent of electricity to be provided by wind, solar, hydro, biomass and other renewable sources by 2030.

In Australia, meanwhile, the carbon price has been dumped and the government is now arguing that legislation should be changed from a fixed target to one that ensures that renewable energy does not exceed 20 per cent by 2020. By doing so, Australia is seeking to become the first country to reduce the scope of its ambition, in much the same way that it has become the first to dump its carbon price.

This has key implications for the role that Australia plays on the international stage. Delegates were aghast in Poland last year when Australia, under the Abbott government, projected its domestic rhetoric into the international arena. A country that had been seen as a constructive and progressive member of the climate talks now became seen as a spoiler.

In this sense, the EU negotiations gave a fascinating insight into global climate change talks, which were also holding a key meeting in Bonn last week, in the prelude to Lima in December and Paris next year.

On the international stage Australia plays a similar role to Poland in Europe. The two countries have much in common: their leaders share a tenuous hold on climate science, a grim determination to extract coal and use it for electricity, don’t like carbon pricing and are trying to keep a lid on renewables.

The key to Paris is what targets individual countries will agree to, how they are imposed, and how they are measured. The preliminary arguments in Bonn last week, and Lima in December, will be about agreeing what sort of information should be included in the target.

Australia was one of the more prominent speakers in Bonn against the idea that the target should be vetted. That, at least, is consistent with its attempts to abolish independent scrutiny by abolishing the Climate Commission and attempting to do the same with the Climate Change Authority, which said earlier this year that if Australia is serious about meeting the global target, and matching global efforts, then it should lift its 5 per cent reduction target for 2020 to 19 per cent.

The actions of Poland show the ability of a minor-to-middle power to thwart the ambitions of bigger players – in this case Germany, France and the UK. So while it is correct to say that the actions of China and the US hold the key to success in Paris, there is no doubt that the likes of Australia, Poland and Russia have the ability to thwart climate goals.

Poland was quite unapologetic about its tactics, which delivered free carbon permits worth more than $1 billion and promises for funds to help it “modernize” is coal-fired plants after 2020.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said after the summit that the threat of veto was simply a “tool” to get the best conditions for Poland’s economy. “Nobody got compensated like we did,” she boasted after the meeting.

Still, the Climate Institute’s Erwin Jackson says the EU’s announcement yet again underscores how much the rest of the world, and Australia’s major trading partners like the EU, China and the US, are leaping ahead of Australia, while we are going backwards,” says Erwin Jackson.

He describes that EU announcement as just an opening gambit, as major emitters are now defining what their post 2020 emissions reduction targets will look like. And whether they will meet the 2°C target that everyone signed up for in Copenhagen, and have reaffirmed in every conference since.

Exactly how the world will achieve that commitment is what the Paris talks are all about. And the ability of EU go reach an agreement – albeit an imperfect one – gives an important pointer as to how a global agreement might emerge, and the role that Australia might play.

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  1. john 5 years ago

    Australia will play no part I am afraid.
    We have the least ambitious goal of any country I would think.
    More than likely we will not even attend as other commitments mean we do not have time to spare to attend.
    But we do believe action should be taken and our “Direct Action Plan” will be enacted and it will have brilliant outcomes leading to good results for companies.

  2. Rob G 5 years ago

    Could Australia playing bad boy become a useful example to the rest of the world for what not to do. Wouldn’t it be great to see some kind of international punishment put on us for ignoring climate action. While I hate the backwardness of our current government, their stupidity may have a strange way of assisting climate action. It could provide an opportunity for the world to demonstrate what its wider community thinks of ‘bad boy’ behaviour, much like how apartheid was handled. And as Australia isn’t a volatile, dangerous country turning the screws tightly on it would be safe. I can just imagine the panic in the Abbott government when every Australian learns that the world has turned against them because of their ‘do nothing’ politics. Not even the Murdich press could hide that anger. I also doubt very much we’ll see Abbott on his pedestal proclaiming he’s right. Maybe it will happen by the G20… here’s hoping!

  3. howardpatr 5 years ago

    “Mad Monk” Abbott, the former Roman Catholic apprentice priest, is soon to be announce by the Vatican as a prospective saint as evidence is gathered about the miracles he has performed to have Green House Gases decline in line with his long held religious teachings that global warming is “crap”.

    • Julien Benney 5 years ago

      In a sense, yes, if Abbott resists the radically anti-religion policies of Eurasia and the Americas – which I must emphasise are driven from below and constitute what working classes have generally desired such ever since they formed – in favour of the limited-government “monarchical” system of before World War One, where the public sector is restricted strictly to defence and administrative functions.

      What the future Church could argue is that Abbott – likely to remain in power for decades given his robust physique – saved Christianity from extinction by his hospitality in the face of unrelenting class war against it in Eurasia and the Americas, and by providing business opportunities severely lacking there with high taxes, limited flat land, and virtually no natural resources.

      Rob G, on a much more serious note, if the world turned against Australia – which it should have done in 1990 or soon after given that ecology demonstrably dictates Australia’s per capita emissions be a small fraction those of the northern and western hemispheres – it would simply make Abbott turn more and more insular, just like Pauline Hanson wanted to do in the late 1990s. We would (and will not doubt) see Australia simply withdraw from international organisation if they make conditions like per capita emissions 1 to 4 percent (ecologically realistic) those of the rest of the world. It’s also true – and Abbott know this – that polluting industries will shift en masse to Australia as soon as the rest of the world agree on greenhouse reductions on the scale advocated by the EU.

      It is a fact that these extremely conservative policies have been taken up by the younger generation of Australians whilst corresponding generations in Eurasia and the Americas have turned out extremely liberal. It is also a fact that Australia would be better equipped to survive sanctions against trade of anything except fertiliser minerals – more concentrated within the Islamic world than is oil – than countries actually sanctioned by the US State Department. It has an extraordinary abundance of flat land in hot climates to feed and house itself as long as fertilisers are available, and a virtual monopoly on remaining mineral resources.

      The real solution is an in-your-face demand that Australia pay fully for the climate damage it has caused via an immediate shift without reductions abroad to a rigidly carbon-free economy. The solution was, in fact, known to me long before Abbott came to power but the will among Eurasia and the Americas to force ti upon Australia is lacking whilst the chance remains

  4. moderate Guy 5 years ago

    There are still some governments in the world that are sane and will not buy into the moronic nonsense of the enviro cult. Good work Poland and Australia.

    • Jan Veselý 5 years ago

      The situation is a bit differrent. Polish are deep in the trouble called coal dependance. They have hundreds of thousands people dependent on coal mining, coal processing and coal power. Mines are underinvested and uncompetitive but their dominant owner – Polish government, is afraid to close them (they would have to buy coal from Russia). But coal electricity is only a minor problem. Much bigger problem is coal usage for domestic heating. Coal burned in crappy old stoves makes some cities of southern Poland “little Beijins” this heating is incredibly cheap (the cheapest is Tailings Slurry Coal) and you would have to have real guts to piss of all “satisfied customers” when forcing them to use something different, something more expensive.

      • moderate Guy 5 years ago

        Sorry, which situation is “different”? Different from what? Bottom line is there are still governments out there that put economical well being of the people they are supposed to serve above extremist, ideologically insane ideas.
        Both Poland and Australia have that kind of governments right now.

        • Jan Veselý 5 years ago

          As I know, they do not have a problem with the “global warming” idea. But for them there are much bigger threats – hundred thousand angry miners, millions of angry householders, energy import dependance.

          • moderate Guy 5 years ago

            That’s because the global warming is complete nonsense. And whether thew people would be angry or not, a government is supposed look after their interests.

    • lin 5 years ago

      Hey Moderate Guy. I find it bewildering that some people can still convince themselves that the planet is not warming. Every month since 1983 has been warmer than the 1900-1999 average. Last decade was hotter than the one before, a pattern repeated over the past century. We have had 3 warmest on record years in the past 17 years, and are on track to break it again this year. We are not in an Al Nino year, and should be cooling, but we are still warming. What we choose to do about it is a political decision.
      However, we don’t get to choose our own facts. It is a fact that the globe is warming, and even the most AGW-denying scientists do not dispute it.

      • moderate Guy 5 years ago

        Well, you members of a cult, any cult, are like that. And of course the enviro cult is among the most irrational ever.
        There is not one shred of scientifically valid data, no evidence whatsoever, that there is a significant warming on a global scale, that is not within the parameters of a natural climate cycle that has been going on for millenia.
        And that is not even getting into this nonsense of AGW.
        And yet you people mindlessly accept these nonsensical pronouncements of your cult leaders, and keep believing, in the face of a overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

        • lin 5 years ago

          Even the (very few) climate scientists who say CO2 is not driving global warming still acknowledge that it is getting warmer. As the satellite data says, more heat is coming in than is going out. By definition, this means we are warming. The only valid arguments are about why.
          It takes a special type of idiot to be able to ignore facts. You appear to be one of those “special” folk.

          • moderate Guy 5 years ago

            Now, don’t call me names, you POS cultist, brain dead, ignorant a##hole. You are going to hurt my feelings.

          • lin 5 years ago

            Special and Angry! Nice attempted troll, dude, but insults from intellectual pigmies are more funny than hurtful. It is interesting that those who know the least about a subject are often the most vocal about it.

            By the way, if you are actually interested in learning why EVERY Academy of Science in the world (including the geology ones) accept that the world is warming, check out this:


          • moderate Guy 5 years ago

            Angry?? The only angry here are you brain dead liberal cultist, whenever someone does not buy into the moronic “global warming” nonsense.
            You “academy of sciences”, like the Medieval Churches are simply political whores peddling lies for money and hoping to sell alms.
            Mildly amusing.

          • Giles 5 years ago

            That’s enough of that thanks. Back to the Galileo web page for you. Bye.

          • lin 5 years ago

            Wow. You have been drinking deeply from the fountain of ignorance.

  5. Alan Baird 5 years ago

    Moderate Guy? Ha ha. Remember Guy, just keep buying your Tele or Hun and listen to Citizen Jones (and Australia’s most famous suppository of wisdom which you seem to have inserted). That’ll keep you nice and comfortable. There now, doesn’t that feel better?

    • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

      Moderate Guy was three days out in the wild. Maybe that’s a Trollrecord.

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