Tony Abbott’s brief sojourn in Davos left most of us cringing and somewhat bemused as to the purpose of his journey. He met with some Australian big business leaders and delivered a speech that had nothing to do with the stated priorities of the forum – the problem of increasing income inequality and the economics of climate change. Le Figaro noted Abbott’s address as a footnote, quoting him as calling for more free trade, an idea that was a long way from the agenda – très loin de la thématique – of earlier gatherings. In fact, Tony left before any of these meetings took place.
But he did fit in a few personal meetings.
With Peta Credlin glued to his side, Abbott showed his ignorance of geography and total ineptitude at small talk when meeting with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab. Tony had lined up for his usual photo shoot and looked around with a silly grin as Professor Schwab turned and walked away in a kind of WTF moment as Tony kept waffling on. Peta leant forward looking like a nervous mother whose child has forgotten his lines in the school play.
Apparently the Dutch Prime Minister also requested a meeting. Tony suggested it was a meet-and-greet but I suspect there was a bit more to it than that. The Netherlands are strong advocates for action on climate change and a leader in guiding the developing world to sustainable energy practices.
While serving as EU Council President in 2004, the Dutch promoted their “Clean, Clever, Competitive” approach and, in 2005, led EU environmental ministers to “propose that developed countries should consider reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 15-30% by 2020 and 60-80% by 2050”.
Economic efficiency is heavily promoted in this approach as the Dutch government states “the Kok report assumes the position that environmental innovation is good for the economy and employment..…[and views] the environment as an opportunity to improve European competitiveness.”
The first green tax on energy in the Netherlands was introduced in 1996. Funds collected are funnelled back into the economy through financial incentives for increased energy efficiency and renewable energy. Sound familiar?
Tony also had yet another meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister. We know he didn’t mention the whales, so what did they discuss? Aside from his unseemly haste to give up our sovereign right to make our own laws by granting corporations the right to sue us (something Philip Morris is already doing re our plain packaging laws), I suspect that Tony is looking for supporters for his backing away from emission reduction targets.
Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest emitter, had pledged to reduce emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels come 2020, on condition that other industrialised countries made similar pledges. Following the Fukushima fallout, imports of oil and gas have soared. It is estimated that just two of Japan’s 54 reactors are online, a sharp reduction for an industry that once supplied 30 percent of the country’s electricity.
Not unexpectedly, on 10 December 2010, the Japanese indicated that they did not intend to be under the obligation of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.
Tony is also in frequent contact with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper. Under the Copenhagen Accord, Canada was committed to reducing its GHG emissions to a level 17 percent below the 2005 level by year 2020. However, on 13 December 2011, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol stating that they could only be a part of an accord, which includes all major emitters as parties.
Russia, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the US, also announced 2 years ago that it did not intend to assume the quantitative emissions limitation or reduction commitment (QELRC) that binds Annex I countries, for the second commitment period.
Together, Canada, Japan and Russia account for 29.2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The future of the Kyoto Protocol–and indeed the entire climate regime–is on the line as big emitters formally withdraw their participation, putting the world at peril. Pulling out of Kyoto now also allows countries to avoid penalties for missing targets.
The pulling out of major emitters means the UNFCCC will look to Asia’s largest emitters–China and India–to play an increasingly significant role in determining the success of the multilateral climate change regime. China has already overtaken the US as the world’s largest CO2 emitter. India is poised to overtake Russia as the third-largest emitter in the near future. Given their huge populations, which jointly cover almost two-fifth of the world population, it is hardly surprising the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that China and India will account for 45 percent of global energy demand growth by 2030. Success at climate negotiations will not be forthcoming unless the key concerns of these Asian countries – particularly challenges pertaining to inequities–are sufficiently taken into account in the future development of climate change.
Distribution of global emissions reinforces the need for broad multilateral cooperation in mitigating climate change. Fifteen to twenty countries are responsible for roughly 75 percent of global emissions. Efforts to cut emissions—mitigation—must therefore be global. Without international cooperation and coordination, some states may free ride on others’ efforts, or even exploit uneven emissions controls to gain competitive advantage. And because the impacts of climate change will be felt around the world, efforts to adapt to climate change—adaptation—will need to be global too.
The perceived lack of leadership by central players in the climate change debate—especially the United States—has elicited increasing concern about the long term prospects of the global climate change regime. Although delegations at Durban, Cancun, and Copenhagen developed reporting mechanisms, funding pledges, and unilaterally declared country-specific emissions reduction goals, the ongoing lack of an international enforcement body has left these promises largely empty. Countries, including Australia, have reneged on their pledged contributions to the Green Climate Fund which was established to help developing countries cope with climate change.
In contrast to this, there is a growing view among business leaders and mainstream economists who see global warming as a force that contributes to lower gross domestic products, higher food and commodity costs, broken supply chains and increased financial risk. Their position is at striking odds with the longstanding argument, advanced by the coal industry and others, that policies to curb carbon emissions are more economically harmful than the impact of climate change.
In Philadelphia this month, the American Economic Association inaugurated its new president, William D. Nordhaus, a Yale economist and one of the world’s foremost experts on the economics of climate change.
“There is clearly a growing recognition of this in the broader academic economic community,” said Mr. Nordhaus, who has spent decades researching the economic impacts of both climate change and of policies intended to mitigate climate change.
In Washington, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, has put climate change at the center of the bank’s mission, citing global warming as the chief contributor to rising global poverty rates and falling G.D.P.’s in developing nations. In Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based club of 34 industrialized nations, has begun to warn of the steep costs of increased carbon pollution.
Nike, which has more than 700 factories in 49 countries, many in Southeast Asia, is also speaking out because of extreme weather that is disrupting its supply chain. In 2008, floods temporarily shut down four Nike factories in Thailand, and the company remains concerned about rising droughts in regions that produce cotton, which the company uses in its athletic clothes.
Coca-cola lost a lucrative operating license in India because of a serious water shortage there in 2004 and, today, after a decade of increasing damage to Coke’s balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force.
“Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years,” said Jeffrey Seabright, Coke’s vice president for environment and water resources, listing the problems that he said were also disrupting the company’s supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, as well as citrus for its fruit juices. “When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats.”
It has been unquestionably shown that the fossil fuel industry is funding the climate change denial debate as well as making significant financial contributions to political parties and advertising campaigns to protect their vast wealth. The fact that 85 individuals have the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world is testament to the “trickle-down effect” being a farce.
If you want to boost the economy, start taxing the superprofits of mining companies and banks, start collecting the tax owed by individuals who hide their money in off-shore tax havens, and address the income inequity that sees 17.2% of Australian children living in poverty. If you want to create jobs then expand the renewable energy industry and give us an NBN that allows us to be competitive and to create whole new areas of endeavour. Invest in education and trades training for the industries of the future.
Instead of all standing on the edge saying “You first”, be a leader – that is your job – start pulling your weight. It is only governments who can save us from corporate greed and it is governments who must demand and legislate for action on climate change. We only have a short time to get this right and unless you all recognise the precipice towards which we are hurtling and start rowing together to avoid it, you will be condemned as those who shipped oars and let us crash.