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Julie Bishop arrives at climate talks amid ignominy for Australia

Julie Bishop will need to fight to rescue Australia’s standing after a dire first week at the Lima climate talks. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop will have a lot of explaining to do when she arrives here in Lima, Peru, ahead of her address to the UN climate summit tomorrow.

It will take all of her diplomatic skills to avoid Australia suffering further ignominy at the negotiations, having already been named the world’s worst-performing industrial nation on climate change in a report by the think tank Germanwatch.

Australia has also scooped no fewer than three Fossil of the Day Awards for blocking progress at the talks (as judged by Climate Action Network, which includes 800 international environmental and climate justice organisations) in the first week of the meeting.

Global public opinion on climate change seems to be way ahead of Australia’s leadership. Australia has declined to pledge any money to the Green Climate Fund, unlike many developed countries including New Zealand and Norway, both of which are part of the negotiating group led by Australia.

One of the “fossil” awards was given to Australia because it, along with Belgium and Ireland, is among the only developed countries that have not so far contributed to the Green Climate Fund, designed to help developing countries reduce their carbon emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

Representatives of 14 Australian aid, development and environment campaign groups, including Oxfam and World Vision, have called on the Australian government to reconsider its refusal to contribute to the fund.

“Twenty-three countries have now pledged US$9.95 billion of the fund’s initial $10-15 billion target, including some developing nations,” the article said.

While the United States has pledged US$3 billion (A$3.6 billion) to the fund, and Japan roughly half that, Australia has not contributed to it at all.

Australia has defended its lack of support for the Green Climate Fund, saying that it will instead support climate change measures through its overseas aid budget, much of which goes to neighbouring Asian and Pacific countries. But critics point out that Australia’s last budget contained cuts to foreign aid, and the stance was deemed worth of another fossil award.

Australia picked up its other fossil award for its stance on loss and damage related to climate. It said that loss and damage should be considered as part of the issue of climate adaptation, rather than as a standalone part of the Paris Climate Agreement, to be finalised in December 2015. This is in direct contrast to the stance of those countries most likely to be affected by climate change, including many of the world’s least developed nations. Once a typhoon or a storm surge causes huge damage, you cannot adapt to it.

Australia has already suffered severe loss and damage from climate change from a longer and more severe bushfire season, more severe flooding and hurricanes. Australia has resources to cope with this. The Philippines clearly does not have the resources to cope with many more severe typhoons.

Bishop moves in

Despite Australia’s disappointing stance so far, some commentators hold out more hope for the rest of the Lima talks with the attendance (at her own insistence) of Julie Bishop. She will be there with Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb – a climate change sceptic - as her apparent chaperone, at the request of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Nearly six out of ten of Australians think Tony Abbott’s Direct Action policy has left the country with an inadequate response to the problem of global warming, according to a recent Fairfax poll.

Robb’s inclusion is being seen as a signal to those within Australia’s Coalition government who favour more ambitious emissions-reduction targets. The message is that Abbott remains opposed to ramping up his climate policy, even as the rest of the world positions itself to do so.

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