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Could they?

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.


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  1. puffytmd

    Yeah but…Julia lied to us. *cry cry whimper whimper, punches wall*

  2. Douglas Evans

    As one diplomat said about our low level of representation at the upcoming talks ‘With these gatherings you are either AT the table or ON the menu’. Doubtless Australia together with other carbon recalcitrants like Canada will be aiming to stymie progress but there is great potential to miss out big-time. We won’t hear about it from most of the MSM or certainly from this government but we will most likely pay dearly for our position as spoiler.

    On the end of the carbon bubble: ‘International Mining’ which describes itself as ‘written for miners by miners’ reports: “…the coal industry has experienced a rapid deterioration in investment in both mining and associated infrastructure projects over the last year, … in the six months prior to April 2013 no coal projects had progressed from initial public announcement to feasibility stage and no coal projects had progressed to investment commitment. A$19 billion of project investment had reverted to the first stage of the investment cycle, or been cancelled altogether.

    Four distinct coal infrastructure projects had been deferred or cancelled in the past 12 months, with Abbot Point T4 – T9 project in Queensland, Port Waratah Coal Services Kooragang Island T4 at Newcastle, Yarwun Coal Terminal and the Balaclava Island Coal Terminal at Gladstone all halting development.’

    The Guardian reports that BHP Billiton is scrapping plans for new coal terminal at Abbot Point in Queensland. The article states:

    ‘A report by the Centre for Policy Development has found there is an excess of port capacity along the Queensland coast, raising concerns that the push to expand ports at Abbot Point, Gladstone and Townsville could put the state “at risk of stranded assets in the long term”.
    The study found coal ports to be operating at 65% of capacity, 20% lower than the long-term industry average.
    It stated that investment banks such as Goldman Sachs were “losing confidence” in Australian coal investments, with the international coal price dropping 22% since 2010.
    According to the report, many of Queensland’s proposed projects require a coal price of $120 a tonne to be viable. The current price is about $77, with the World Bank forecasting a $70-a-tonne average until 2020.’

    Is that the sound of a bubble bursting?

  3. Cameron McNamara

    You just lost your credibility,, I think if you researched a little more efficiently you will find Australia is sending very senior representation to Warsaw. I am all for Abbott bashing but let’s get the facts straight or I might as well read The Australian.

  4. OzFenric

    Hi Cameron, thank you. I understand that “Australia’s Climate Change Ambassador” will be attending. I did not claim that nobody from Australia was going; in fact, I implied that our representatives would be there with a mandate to frustrate and obfuscate.
    We are unable to say what the negotiating mandate for Australia’s delegation will be, as the government has cancelled the meetings that would specify its position to businesses and foreign diplomats, and isn’t speaking to the Australian media. This piece is a hypothetical which analyses one potential cause for the government’s reticence, and in the absence of other/better information is valid as a hypothesis.
    I would love to be wrong. Please indicate the “very senior representation” that will be sent to Warsaw and if possible any indication as to what instructions they have been given. All that I’ve seen reported to date is that they will seek :”a deep, strong international agreement”. And thank you for your contribution – we’d all love to know more.

  5. Geoff Of Epping

    It’s becoming more shocking each day we read in the press about the antics of this new mob in power.
    I have to admit i am scratching my head at the short term track the government has taken and continues to take.
    All the hopes and aspirations of Australians rest with this uncaring, unfeeling, unintelligent government, who seem more interested in playing ideology than preserving out futures.
    The Coalition voters around Australia, are, mostly sane, hard working people who through no fault of their own have been cruelly duped by Abbott’s softly softly campaign, and will, in a very short time realise that they are not uppermost in Abbott’s mind. They were a means to an end, they have served their purpose.
    The rest of us, who voted otherwise are now being taken along for the ride despite not wanting anything to do with it.

  6. John Fraser

    One of the first signs of destruction being wrought in Australia will be when the Great Barrier Reef is divided by the dumping of acidic soils from the Abbott Point coal port dredging.

    What spin will be put on that …. The Great Barrier Reef and the Lesser Great Barrier. ? …. or will it be sold as Australia having the 2 biggest reefs in the world ?

    The LNP is the Taliban of natural wonders and culture.

  7. John Fraser

    @Michael Taylor

    Its a delegation of bureaucrats attending.

    Australia’s elected government will not be attending.

    Its called “Transparency” … Liberals cannot see the Abbott government and Labor sees right through the Abbott government.

    Hunt will be repealing the carbon initiative in parliament …. and Australians will be crying in their weet bix over not getting cheaper electricity and gas.

    The ACCC will be making excuses.

  8. johnlord2013

    For a former Prime Minister of this country to say that he believed his instincts before the facts of science if nothing more than an admission of his own ignorance. Science deserves better.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Science deserves better.

    John, I might add that Australia also deserves better.

  10. Michael Taylor

    Cameron, could you please provide us with a link?

  11. cornlegend

    Australia snubs global climate talks, as Greg Hunt stays home to repeal carbon tax –

    IN diplomatic circles, actions speak louder than words.

    And there is an unambiguous message in Australia’s decision not to send a minister or senior government figure to next week’s UN climate change conference in Poland

  12. Kaye Lee

    Douglas I think you’ll find that Greg Hunt has been very busily approving coal mining in the Galilee Basin. Gina and her Indian business partner (grandfather of the bride) have profited greatly from giving Bishop and Joyce a little holiday. I dare say Clive will trading his vote for similar approval for his coal holdings in the Galilee. And Abbott’s Point will be next.

    “Over the last two years in the United States, concerned citizens have been galvanised to march, rally, campaign and get arrested to block the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – a project to pump a reported 830,000 tonnes of one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels from Canada to Texas.

    The decision is still sitting with President Barack Obama. Environment group the Natural Resources Defense Council says blocking the project will prevent as much as 24.3 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent being released every year.

    Over the 50-year life of the project, that’s 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases – a huge amount.

    Yet if this level of emissions seems irresponsibly high – which it surely is in a carbon constrained world trying to avert the risk of dangerous climate change – then how should we categorise 3.7 billion tonnes of CO2-e, a figure more than triple that from the Keystone XL proposal?

    That 3.7 billion tonnes is the total emissions of CO2-e which could be emitted by just two linked mega coal mines in the Galilee Basin in Queensland, Australia, which have both been approved for development”

  13. Carol Taylor

    Irrespective of the flat-earth views of some of this current government surely if there was a world conference to discuss the roundness of the earth, that one would want to be a part of it. This seems to continue a most disturbing trend, a trend by this government to deny that situations exist at all. While Abbott sacks 1/4 of all scientists and research workers at the CSIRO, he does still however intend to help out with CCTV cameras..well perhaps he might….

  14. lawrencewinder

    Could the irresponsibility of this government regarding climate change be regarded as criminal?
    John Roskam (IPA) on 774, today virtually gloated that the argument over climate change was the same today as it was ten years ago.
    When it all really “hits-the-fan”, could these activist deniers from politics and the “think-tanks” be charged with “intent to cause harm”?

  15. Carol Taylor

    Lawrencewinder, it’s a possibility – if not criminal, then it is possible that organisations and individuals could sue for damages. For example, most coastal shire councils have taken the effects of climate change on board when developing things such as their LEPs, therefore if a Federal government refuses to address the issue resulting in more than the anticipated damage, it is possible that they leave themselves open to be sued.

  16. DC

    I had no illusions about what agenda an IPA backed Abbott led Coalition would pursue once in power but even I am shocked by this announcement. What can we do? seriously there needs to be a global general strike or something at some point in time. Can any one tell me if they know, will Australia be the only country to not send any senior government figures to Warsaw?

  17. Kaye Lee

    crimes against humanity

  18. DC

    The most upsetting thing is, if Scotland can commit to 100% renewable energy on their grid by 2020, why is it so hard for Australia the wealthiest nation per capita in the world to commit a measly 20% renewable target by 2020. These clips show how easy it could be if the political will was stronger for Australia to go 100% solar by 2020;

  19. Dan Rowden

    One has to consider the international ramifications of the Coalition’s attitude and behaviour. I fail to see how it could be other than deleterious to Australia’s interests to find itself being considered a bad global citizen by the world at large. However, that perception seems inevitable the way things are going.

  20. Gilly

    Obviously the only science worthy of adults is the science of spin.

  21. DC

    There needs to be a general strike during next weeks Warsaw climate negotiations and I sure am not the person to organize it. I wouldn’t know the first thing about event management or online marketing but if anyone out there did know how to get something like this started and was willing to take lead, I would offer all that I could to assist. One thing I do know is that Governments hate having industrial action occur on their watch

  22. Kaye Lee

    Could I encourage as many people as are able to attend the National Climate Action Day rallies being carried out all over the country on November 17. Give Tony, Greg and the MSM something they can’t ignore.

  23. duggy47

    Kaye Lee @10.28am
    I read Graham Readfearn’s article also as no doubt nearly everyone here has. I was going to post the same comment to him. Government approvals are one thing. Having adequate finance and suitable market conditions to drive a mining project is something quite different. I’ll cut and paste a few bits and pieces to illustrate.

    If you can’t borrow the money you can’t build the mine and according to the mining industry itself, lenders are becoming increasingly disinclined to bankroll Australian coal mines. In July this year Goldman Sachs produced a report, titled “The window for thermal coal investment is closing.” In it, the bank revealed that “thermal coal’s current position atop the fuel mix for global power generation will be gradually eroded by the following structural trends: 1) environmental regulations that discourage coal-fired generation, 2) strong competition from gas and renewable energy and 3) improvements in energy efficiency. There are already signs that this is occurring. Consumption of thermal coal for power in both the United States and China, the two biggest producers of coal in the world, has fallen. Production in these countries has also declined in the first six months of this year. In Australia unfortunately our BIG FOUR banks have thrown caution to the winds and are backing the boom flat out. “The ANZ ($2347 million), Commonwealth ($1503 million), NAB ($1450 million) and Westpac ($1158 million)—have played an integral role in the anticipated energy export bonanza. Together they have loaned almost $4 billion to coal and gas projects in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area since 2008.

    This will change of course and they may well lose their/our money soon. We may be just about to be dragged over the financial cliff by our banks remains to be seen. We’ll probably know the answer to that in the term of this government. We’d all do well to look carefully at where our money is invested right now, not just as a matter of ethics but as a matter of financial survival.

    If the price is not high enough to guarantee the return even if you could get the money to get started you wouldn’t build the mine. Coal prices have crashed globally and seem likely to remain below the level of economic viability for Queensland coal for a decade at least. Having crashed by around 22% the cost of Australian coal is predicted to remain at or around $80/tonne through to 2025. Apparently much of the new Queensland coal needs a price of up to $120/tonne for economic viability.

    If the demand is not there you can’t build your mine. Whether the price is what you projected or not if the customers don’t want to buy enough of your coal you wouldn’t build the mine. China is capping coal consumption by 2015. which is significant as it has been the main driver of Australia’s coal export growth. At the same time it is rapidly expanding its own coal mining capacity to further reduce the need for import. Ditto Indonesia. In mid September this year China unveiled ambitious plans to slash coal consumption by moth-balling a raft of coal-fired power stations, smelters and factories and accelerating construction of nuclear power stations.

    Now I’m no economist (putting it mildly) but to me all this sounds rather like a bubble bursting.

  24. nettythe1st

    And all this happening while (according to a source working in coal mining) Australian coal mines have the biggest stockpiles of coal in memory and are unable to move the coal as quickly as they are digging it up. And coal prices are dropping. Oh the greed!

  25. dave the brickie

    What should be of more importance to aussie exporters (not the coal and mining type)is the new laws being promoted by France,in the Eurozone, that imports to Europe that come from countries that have no carbon pricing mechanism,be subjected to high import taxes.Bad luck Uncle Ruppy,you will never be able to buy Le Monde,the real free press of France.

  26. Kaye Lee

    duggy47 I truly hope that what you are discussing grows but I wonder about India.

  27. Buff McMenis

    Climate Change is real, Human beings are responsible for 99.99 recurring percentage of the troubles, and the Coalition is EVIL! Nuff said! And they are fools who are making the rest of us appear to be fools for electing them into power, even if we didn’t vote for them! Tragic, really!

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