Australia disappoints at global climate talks, grassroots take action

As the UNFCCC Conference of Parties 19 (COP 19) wraps up in Warsaw, Poland, close to a thousand activists have walked out , grossly disappointed with the results.

The rift between rich and poor nations intensified with no major compromise on key issues. Many developed countries turned their backs from their commitments,  including emission caps and funding mechanisms.

Oxfam International, joined by more than a dozen of civic international groups, released a statement saying the Warsaw Conference saw participants with conflicting interests. More notably, the interests of dirty energy industries were more visible than that of global citizens – with a “Coal & Climate Summit” being held in conjunction. It said corporate sponsorship from big-time polluters could be seen everywhere and that the Poland Presidency that is beholden to the coal and fracking industry.

Members of civil society movements walk out out of the U.N. talks on global warming held at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday. Pic: AP.

From day one, Australia showed no interest to take part in the climate event; it did not send a minister representative. The Tony Abbott coalition government instead prioritised the repeal the carbon tax at its first parliamentary session. As the Warsaw Conference ends, the carbon tax repeal has already passed the Lower House, although it is still to go before the Senate.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) gave Australia a high ranking for creating the framework for strong action when it introduced the carbon tax in 2011. The CAT saw the new climate legislation as a historic breakthrough for the nation – putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions ranks alongside any of the “big” reforms of the past 30 years.

The CAT said the study is the first of a series of independent, science-based country assessments looking at each country’s international climate change action, comparing it to its pledge and to what’s needed to keep global warming to below 2°C (and 1.5°C, as called for by the most vulnerable countries).

In Doha last year, Australia made a non-binding pledge to reduce emissions by 5% on 2000 levels by 2020, irrespective of international action, and said it will reduce emission levels by 15-25% from 2000 levels by 2020 if other countries make significant commitments.

Greg Combet, then Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, told delegates at CarbonExpo in Melbourne on November 9, 2012 that Australia would sign on to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol with specific conditions.

Most Australian economists agree that the country cannot achieve its voluntary target of reducing emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 without industry paying a price on carbon.

Under the new Abbott Government, however, the CAT ranked Australia’s climate change efforts as inadequate.

The CAT said repealing the carbon tax would dismantle most of the present policy framework, including present fixed carbon prices and the cap-and-trade system put in place in 2011.

The CAT speculates

Australian Coalition Government at present does not have the majority in the Senate for repeal and will not do so until at least July 2014, after which time it will need to be negotiated with minor Parties to achieve this. However, the Government has insisted that it will call a fresh general election should the Senate not support repeal.  Given this situation, it is clear that the present assessment may not stand, given the significant chance that present policies could be dropped or not implemented. The new Government has committed only AU$3.2 billion (capped) to meet the 5% reduction target and has indicated that no further funding will be made available should this fall short of meeting this goal. Several analyses indicate that this so-called ‘Direct Action’ policy will fall far short of the 5% goal.

Australia was already mocked for garnering the most Fossil of the Day awards during the summit. It has so far won half of the “illustrious accolades”, handed out on each day of negotiations by the Climate Action Network to the country who has done most to block progress at the UN climate negotiations.

During one of the sessions, Australia’s team was accused of lacking respect after delegates turned up to critical discussions wearing shorts and teeshirts. They also “gorged on snacks” during negotiations on whether developed states should make reparations to vulnerable countries as the impacts of climate change become more severe, according to a spokesperson for CAN International. Their behaviour caused over 130 developing nations to abandon discussions on the controversial issue of climate compensation at 4am last night.

Abbott is pushing to scrap the carbon tax following an election campaign promise. Repealing the carbon is an effort to keep Australia’s businesses competitive in the world market. The Australian noted Abbott saying:

… without the carbon and mining taxes, “and without the sovereign risk issues that this government has created”, Australia would once again be among “the most attractive places in the world to invest”.”The Olympic Dam mine expansion, Port Hedland Harbour expansion, and the Browse gas-field development can’t be guaranteed to go ahead — but they can almost certainly be guaranteed not to proceed while the carbon tax, mining tax and job-destroying industrial regulation remain in place.”Mr Abbott, who has threatened a double dissolution election if the Coalition’s repeal of the carbon tax is frustrated in the Senate, was “confident” Labor would learn the lessons of an election defeat.

A banner at Treasury Gardens in Melbourne during the National Day of Climate Action. (Photo: R. Yoon/the Green Journal)

Abbott abolished the Australia Climate Commission shortly after he took office in September. The Commission was set up to advise on the science and economics of carbon pricing.

Greens and grassroots movements have taken action in response to the new government’s actions. The National Day of Climate Action (November 17) saw more than 60,000 people gather in major cities and towns nationwide to urge the government to take action on climate change. The event was organised by GetUp, Australia Youth Climate Coalition, and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

GetUp supporters raise banners in Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journal)

“60,000 Australians from every corner of our sunburnt (and, in places, rain-soaked) country came together for climate action on Sunday, and as climate activists we’re now being described as ‘Abbott’s Worst Enemy’,” GetUp said.

GetUp is now spearheading a drive to raise $22m to keep up the fight.

 If we are going to keep up the fight, we need the resources to keep going. If all of us who came chipped in just $1 a day we’d have $22 million to fund a campaign for climate action – matching what the mining industry has spent to stop climate action. We have to step up and fight even harder on climate change. We believe that means we need a movement of people who are connected, empowered, inspired and informed. GetUp’s infrastructure allows us to connect and empower.

More photos: National Day of Climate Action (Melbourne)

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

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2 thoughts on “Australia disappoints at global climate talks, grassroots take action

  1. What I found most interesting is that even Russia is ranked higher on the scale then Canada and most other countries for that matter. I am deeply ashamed being Canada is the one that came up with this agreement in the first place. The problem is that the public has disengaged from the decision making process. We need more grass movements like this. The world needs people that actually give a shit.

    Like

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