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Issue #1665      November 19, 2014

G20 Summit

Abbott govt – climate pariah

Abbott’s attempt to steer the agenda of the G20 Summit around the issue of climate change was undone in spectacular fashion by US President Barack Obama’s address to an enthusiastic audience at the University of Queensland. Commitments about post-2020 domestic climate targets and energy efficiency appear in the communiqué coming from the two-day meeting of leaders of the world’s biggest economies. Pressure is mounting on the Abbott government to stop being a “leaner” and to join the “lifters” in the still stumbling international effort to head off a climate catastrophe.

Prime Minister Abbott shakes hands with Russian President Putin as he officially welcomes him to the G20 Summit.

Australia’s negligible effort in the area of emissions reduction was underscored before the Brisbane mega-meeting even began. An agreement between the US and the People’s Republic of China on the eve of the G-20 commits the US to an emissions reduction of between 26 and 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025. China has pledged to stop emissions growth by 2030, if not sooner, to get an ambitious 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources and to use higher grade, cleaner fuels in general – that is equivalent to the closure of all its coal-fired power plants.

Together, the US and China account for just over 40 percent of global carbon emissions, so any cut in their output has got to be good news. It is not, however, a cue for a world-wide sigh of relief that the battle for a liveable climate in future has been won. China will continue to use more fossil fuels for the next decade and a half. This is in line with the principles of the Kyoto Protocol ratified at the Rio World Climate Change Summit in 1990. It was always recognised that developing countries needing to lift living standards to an adequate level would have to increase emissions for some time.

The US government’s decision to use yet another base year for measuring emissions reductions is deliberately confusing. The original Kyoto commitment by the governments of 37 wealthier, industrialised countries was for a reduction of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. The base year for calculating reductions was subsequently shifted to 2000 – a move that significantly lowered the agreement’s ambitions.

Whatever the base year, a commitment from Australia equivalent to that just made by the US would be for a 30 percent reduction in emissions from 2000 levels by 2025. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt won’t comment on any targets beyond 2020 until the Paris conference on climate change to be held next year is upon us. The shameful reality is that the Abbott government’s so-called “direct action plan” is unlikely to achieve even its stated, unambitious target of a 5 percent reduction by 2020. The resource sector’s ownership of the Australian government was on show for all the word to see at the G-20.

Abbott’s clangers about coal being “good for humanity” and his government’s insistence that “clean coal” is just around the corner have raised eyebrows. Plans to dump dredge soil in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area to create deeper port facilities for coal exports just keep on coming. And while the world grapples with the consequences of record high temperatures and rising sea levels, the Abbott government is cutting funding to the Australian Climate Change Science Program.

Labor has pulled out of discussions with the government about Australia’s renewable energy target (RET). The Coalition wants to slash the RET from 41,000 gigawatt hours of baseline power by 2020 to about 26,000 gigawatt hours. Investment in the green energy sector has collapsed as a consequence of this sharply downgraded commitment. Labor’s attempts at a compromise gigawatt hour target in the mid-to-high 30s have all been rebuffed. Frustration at Abbott & Co’s eco-vandalism is building.

The failure of successive Australian governments to pull their weight on climate change is now internationally recognised. It is not how the people of Australia want to be viewed. The election of the Coalition government last year wasn’t a ringing endorsement of its lifeless “direct action plan” but an expression of a lack of faith in Labor, its opportunism and deal-making on the question. As can been seen from the rapturous reception for Obama, Australians desperately want leadership on this and several other burning issues. Obama made direct reference to the Great Barrier Reef, “I want to come back, and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit. (Applause.) And I want that there 50 years from now.”

Unfortunately, faith in Obama and similar international figures is misplaced. Despite commitments by the US, Britain, Canada, the EU and others, the planet is still not on track for a happy climate ending. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change recently renewed its warning about the multiple threats facing humanity from anthropogenic global warming. Its earlier reports insisted there must be a 40 percent reduction on year 2000 carbon emission levels by 2020 if we are to avoid a global average temperature increase above 2°C. That’s not going to happen.

Huge transnational corporations, most of them in charge of hugely polluting industries, dictate policy to the Abbotts, Camerons, Merkels and Obamas of this world. Their job is to sell big business’ agenda to the people of their respective countries. Obama does a very slick job, Abbott does a bumbling one.

The workers and other exploited people know there is a crisis and are resisting the reckless policies of the monopolies. They have managed to push back more successfully in the UK, the EU and elsewhere than in Australia but it’s not enough. A greater understanding of the destructive essence of capitalism is required. Action on climate change has to be a central demand for all progressive people. It must become a core trade union concern.

Next article – Editorial – Terra nullius never went away

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