Next week, the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will be held in Warsaw. These sessions are a continuation of the process that included the important and internationally accepted Kyoto Treaty, and are building towards a final meeting with the intention of creating a binding, internationally agreed treaty on climate change mitigation, in 2015.
Not entirely surprisingly, the Abbott Coalition government will not be sending a Minister nor a senior representative. This omission is regarded as “highly unusual“, but from a government openly skeptical of the human impact on climate change (or the very existence of it) and hostile to most accepted forms of responding to it, it can perhaps be understood. It is disturbingly ironic that the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will instead be in Parliament trying to dismantle Australia’s world-leading attempt at carbon abatement through an emissions trading scheme whilst his international counterparts will be at a global conference discussing ways to implement exactly this kind of scheme.
More disturbingly, the government has cancelled consultations which were already planned with domestic business representatives and foreign diplomats to brief them on Australia’s stance at the talks. These consultations are traditionally held in advance of this annual meeting and some have suggested that their cancellation indicates rifts and disagreements within the Abbott government about the appropriate approach. But a more sinister possibility exists.
It is certainly possible that the meetings were cancelled because Australia effectively has no stance on the climate talks to offer; that the Cabinet is not united, the Abbott government has not had sufficient time to formulate an approach, and to engage in these consultations would reveal the extent of the disagreements. It’s also possible that the Abbott government thinks that climate change discussions are such a waste of time that the cancellation of these meetings is a cost-saving measure. But these are not the only possible explanations.
Whichever way the talks go, and whatever you think of anthropogenic climate change, Australia stands to lose, and lose big.
- If climate change is real and goes unmitigated, we’re amongst the biggest losers in terms of environmental impact, with effects on health, productivity, real estate and loss of food security.
- If climate change is not real but enforceable limits come into place, Australia’s biggest competitive advantage in the world – and pretty much the only one that matters under a Coalition government – is badly devalued. It’s known as a carbon bubble and the effects on Australia would be severe. If Australia can find no buyers for her coal, oil and gas, or the terms of trade for these resources decline, then Australia’s GDP goes through the floor. Cue huge unemployment, recession, social unrest – and if Australia failed to succeed in heroic efforts to retool for a new economy, failed state status would not be out of the question.
There are thus three major policy positions available.
- If you don’t believe in climate change, the only position with integrity is to frustrate the creation of any kind of global, binding emissions standards. The imposition of these standards would needlessly and critically damage the Australian economy, and the Coalition is tying Australia ever more closely to the success of its carboniferous export markets.
- If you are agnostic on climate change, the pragmatic position, of greatest benefit to a political party right now, is to frustrate global standards. In this way you can defer the negative impacts of binding emissions standards and the end of the carbon bubble, at least for a while. Hopefully, at least while you remain in power.
- If you are a believer in climate change, the only position with integrity is to support and promote global standards, which will have significant economic consequences for Australia. The resultant devaluing of the big mining companies will mean foregoing a huge volume of tax and royalty revenue. It will require a significant effort at retooling the economy to support renewable energy, with increased research and development, funds being given to climate projects, and governmental support and backing for mechanisms to reduce carbon outputs without crippling the economy. In other words, much of the infrastructure that makes up Labor’s ETS legislation, that Greg Hunt will be trying to dismantle starting next week.
The Coalition has an overall tendency towards climate change denial, and an overwhelming amount of political pragmatism. Could they be planning to vote no; to do everything possible to sabotage international agreement on the topic of standards?
It can only be to the Coalition’s benefit to frustrate global agreement on carbon standards. Successful adoption of binding standards has the following effects:
- The Coalition’s stance appears increasingly out of step with the rest of the world;
- Other countries divest from oil, coal & gas, with the aforementioned economic impacts on Australia;
- Other countries benefit from their own huge investments in solar/renewables, that the Coalition has turned its back on or repealed; and
- The importance of the global emissions trading market burgeons, just as the Coalition may well be successful (particularly after July 2014) in deconstructing Australia’s own stake in the game.
On the other hand, continued global disagreement has the following outcomes of benefit to the Coalition:
- Support is provided to the standard political excuses: “The science isn’t settled”, “The argument’s not over”, and “We’re awaiting consensus.”
- A temporary delay may be achieved in the collapse of the fossil fuel market. This provides the government of the day more time to dig up and sell the fossil fuel resources Australia is so rich in, while we still can.
If the Coalition truly disbelieves in climate change, or man’s contribution to it, then if it is to be true to itself, it will mandate policies that frustrate the efforts of meetings such as Warsaw, November 2013. In so doing, it is going to be actively destroying the future of the planet; furthermore, it is currently lying to the Australian people whenever it talks about Direct Action and carbon emissions targets it doesn’t see as relevant. To readers of this blog, this is no revelation at all.
If the Coalition isn’t sure about climate change and is simply being pragmatic, in addition to destroying the future, they are more culpable: they are deliberately risking the future for the sake of their own political present.
And if, contrary to many peoples’ beliefs, the Coalition actually believes in climate change, but still acts to frustrate consensus for its own political gain, knowing the effects it will have on generations yet to come, then that would be the most evil of all.