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Australia makes a bad start at Warsaw climate change meeting

It’s been embarrassment after embarrassment for Australia at the Warsaw climate change meeting. Former UN Climate Chief, Yvo de Boer, upbraided Australia for its failure to send a Minister. Australia was…

Not an award you want to get: Australia is named and shamed for holding up climate progress. Climate Action Network

It’s been embarrassment after embarrassment for Australia at the Warsaw climate change meeting.

Former UN Climate Chief, Yvo de Boer, upbraided Australia for its failure to send a Minister. Australia was also criticised for its topsy-turvy climate policy in the opening issue of ECO, the non-government organisation newsletter produced at the talks.

Australia pulled a triple bad start by being awarded Fossil of the Day on the summit’s first day. The award is given by the international Climate Action Network to the country which has done the most to block progress at the climate change negotiations on that day.

Australia also topped the Fossil of the Day Awards on Wednesday beating out Turkey. This one was for seeking to repeal the carbon price (hence “hurling Australia back into the abyss of time”, as opposed to the more than 40 countries, states and provinces who have moved into the modern times with a carbon price) and also stripping $435 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and removing $10 billion of investment in clean energy.

Australia is blocking progress in a myriad of ways, but the outstanding one is its statement that it will not sign up to new finance commitments in Warsaw. Many would have thought Australia’s position at the climate summit could not have got much worse after the dismantling of its climate change department, abolishing the Climate Change Authority which provides independent advice on policy, ridding itself of the burden of a climate change minister and putting removal of its carbon price before Parliament during this summit.

But the lack of committed climate finance seems to do so. That it’s done in the face of the crushing losses suffered by the Philippines this week - a country which is a Pacific neighbour to Australia and needs international climate finance to build resilience against future tragedy - makes it even more telling.

Australia is awarded Fossil of the Day.

It illustrates starkly this government’s lack of understanding about why climate finance is needed. Our Cabinet ministers apparently characterise climate finance as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”. But I have news for you: it’s not socialism, its equity – our fair share - and it’s our responsibility as one of the richest countries and highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

Perhaps Australia could do better on emissions reductions? The US and China have made important announcements on strengthening their climate action this year. And the Climate Change Authority has described our the existing emissions reduction target of 5% by 2020 as “inadequate” and “not a credible option”. So it would have been good to see the Australian Government seeking to keep up with the ambition of other developed countries.

But instead our Government continues to prevaricate. Tony Abbott said yesterday:

Australia will meet our 5% emissions reduction target, but this government has made no commitments to go further than that. We certainly are in no way looking to make further binding commitments in the absence of very serious like binding commitments from other countries, and there is no evidence of that.

This statement is despite repeated assertions by both the prime minister and the environment minister Greg Hunt that the Coalition still support increasing Australia’s emissions reduction target to up to 25% under a specific conditions for global action accepted by both major parties.

And this is despite a finding by the Climate Change Authority that the conditions for a target higher than 5% had already been met.

Philippines climate change negotiator Yeb Sano on why climate action is needed.

The mood of the climate talks are clearly with the lead negotiator for the Philippines, Yeb Sano, whose hometown of Tacloban City was among the worst affected by last week’s typhoon. He said:

It’s time to stop this madness.

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific… and see the impacts of rising sea levels; … to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce… And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.

The science has given us a picture that is getting ever more focussed. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts are a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.

Australia’s reputation at these talks needs to change, and it will rely on Prime Minister Abbott’s political will and good diplomatic sense. If Abbott agrees with the science, and has confidence in his own proposed policies, it can’t be too hard to accept the independent advice about the level of action needed.