Brisbane, capital of Australia’s “Sunshine State”, will play host to twenty world leaders at the G20 summit this weekend. Brisbane, a city that epitomises Australia’s laid back culture, will transform into the scene of yet another pitched battle between communities concerned for their future and governments more concerned about unfettered free trade and trickle-down policies.
The origins of the battle are straightforward – collectively world leaders have failed to act in the interests of their constituents. Leaders have been negotiating climate change agreements since the 1990s and yet global emissions continue to rise. We have already reached a critical point and some previously reluctant governments have started to recognise it.
The Australian cabinet, however, is not one of them. The government has been repeatedly attacking Australia’s environment. It scrapped the national emissions trading scheme, which was working to bring emissions under control without devastating economic consequences; and it has now turned its sights on the national renewable energy target and clean energy finance corporation.
Australia is dangerously falling behind the rest of the world in taking action on climate change and trying actively to drag down others along the way.
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and President of the G20, has repeatedly refused to include climate change on the G20 agenda. This shouldn’t be surprising from a man who recently said that “coal is good for the future of humanity” abd that there are few things more damaging to Australia’s future than coal left in the ground. Under his leadership Australia’s emissions have actually risen.
The last eight G20 meetings have seen climate change issues on the agenda because leaders have recognised their economic, social and environmental significance.
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In Australia, however, even putting up a poster to support the environment agenda has proven difficult. Brisbane Airport Corporation has refused to allow a paid billboard advertisement calling on leaders to include climate change on the G20 agenda. This demand comes from the millions of Australians who want action on climate change, who are being represented by a coalition of non-governmental organisations, including the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Oxfam and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Abbott’s anti-environment policies are not limited to crossing the environment out of the G20 agenda. With his blessing and much to the concern of the UN, Australia’s environment minister agreed to allow Indian conglomerate Adani Group to dump three million cubic metres of sludge in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef marine park to make way for an expanded coal port; only after the public outcry over these plans was the company forced to change its proposal.
The Australian government is also dismantling the nation’s entire renewable energy industry and flushing thousands of clean energy jobs and investments down the drain. It is also a government that believes it can, with a little help from its friends, convince the rest of the world to do likewise.
Shortly before arriving in Washington DC, for a meeting with US President Barack Obama on June 12, Tony Abbott announced an “alliance” with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada. The goal of this alliance is to prevent President Obama and the rest of the world from taking action to cut the pollution that’s increasingly causing extreme weather.
The Abbott government’s anti-environment ideology is increasingly isolating Australia on the international stage. At home, he has been successful in bringing about a cacophony of misinformation and fear through the nation’s tabloid media, effectively drowning sensible debate on the topic.
From laggards to leaders
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published its most comprehensive update report on the impact of climate change. The report finds that if we want to avoid the worst of climate change impacts, almost all greenhouse gas emissions must be stopped by phasing out fossil fuels by 2100. Climate change inaction has become more expensive than acting on climate change, economically and for the planet.
And after months of closed door negotiationsChina and the US – who used to lag behind others on the climate change issue – have stuck a deal on emissions cuts in a push for a global climate change pact in Paris next year.
The power of the market is being utilised in more and more countries around the world, showing that it’s possible to cut pollution and grow clean business opportunities and jobs. China is well on the way to commencing a national emissions trading scheme in 2020, with seven pilot schemes already in operation, bringing the number of people globally living in countries or states with emissions trading schemes to close to one billion.
These developments leave Australia increasingly on the fringe. Its polluter subsidy scheme, which replaced the national emissions trading scheme, has been widely panned by economists, including Professor Ross Garnaut, as ineffective and costly.
The inaction of the Australian government hasn’t stemmed the tide of ordinary citizens and business taking action. Around two million Australians have installed solar panels on their roofs. And as far back as 2006, ACF’s Business Roundtable established a strong desire from the business sector to put a price on carbon pollution.
The G20 leaders meeting is the time for Australia to recognise that we’re behind the game when it comes to climate change. It’s time for China and the US to call on Australia to do the right thing, and shine a light on what it stands to lose as the rest of the world build a future around cheap, clean energy technology, jobs and the preservation of natural treasures.
The race to get ahead of climate change is getting harder. To fall behind now and try to trip over others on the way would be nothing short of an economic and diplomatic disaster.