British Prime Minister David Cameron with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the G20 Summit in Brisbane
As this year’s G20 summit kicks off in Brisbane, Australia, tensions mount between Tony Abbott’s conservative leaning government and leaders in the US, Europe, and China, among many others. Abbott’s opposition to global climate change initiatives is long-standing and strongly held, predicated on the belief that such efforts cause undue harm to the economy. With successive UN studies strongly supporting the idea of anthropogenic climate change and with an increasing number of countries entering more serious, well-funded climate agreements, Abbott has largely been fighting this issue on his heels. Fortunately for him, the location of the G20 this year has changed that, though only for a single set of talks.
As per G20 rules the host nation sets the agenda, giving the Australian government a comparatively massive influence over the course of the discussion for this year. Since the start of the G20 summits during the 2007 financial crisis, the international meeting has become one of the most influential annual global policy events. Before the summit began, President Obama expressed interest in the Green Climate Fund, which is aimed at helping less developed nations obtain the means to cut emissions and build infrastructure that is resistant to the effects of climate change. The Obama administration plans to invest $2.5-$3 billion in the fund out of a total $10 billion goal.
The Green Climate Fund, if successfully established, is meant to lead to wider action at a UN conference in 2015. Should the fund garner the support it needs by then, the conference could lead to developments among the international community to safeguard those vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Abbott, however, has taken a position staunchly against the creation of such a fund, stating that it would be “socialism masquerading as environmentalism.” He has consistently opposed such action in his own country as well, as is seen in his efforts to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (which he refers to as the “Bob Brown bank”).
The essential difference, in this case, is that through no other factor other than Australia’s selection as host of the G20, Abbott is able to exert his will over the issue by almost entirely omitting it. While the summit is held in different countries from year to year, the essential concept behind such an arrangement is equality among peers and an opportunity for collective economic action among many of the world’s most powerful figures. In Abbott’s eyes, climate change is an issue more suitable to direct action at the UN, and that these climate change efforts are non-economic policies that would “harm jobs and growth.” By removing climate from the conversation entirely, Abbott snubs the concerns of his fellow leaders and forsakes the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue.
Addressing climate change, like many other environmental issues, requires cooperation on an international scale. With a requirement like this, disagreement is bound to occur, but summits like the G20 are precisely the opportunities to discuss such concerns. When individuals like Abbott remove the discussion because they fear where it may lead, they ultimately undermine the intended purpose of these conferences in a vaunted attempt of self-insulation. Leaders in many countries, such as China and the US, see climate change as an issue worth devoting substantial amounts of time and resources into; and if Abbott continues to unduly impinge upon this process, Australia’s relations with leaders in the East and the West could suffer for it.
Kwame Newton is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell University, majoring in Government.
Image Attribution: “PM in Australia” by Number 10, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
4 thoughts on “Global Climate Policy & Australian Politics”
What an intriguing an article.
What global changes in the world, or Australia specifically, do you think it would take for the Prime Minister of Australia to recognize the severity of the issue? Is there a more efficient way to take care of the problem without creating a seemingly socialism-like foundation that could allegedly weaken the global economy?
Australia, as a country, is very much at the mercy of the elements in a few respects. Bushfires and drought are two of the natural consequences of living on a continent that is predominately desert, but this also means that the majority of people are living near the coast. The government currently has laws in place that regulate water usage and mandate vegetation clearing in certain areas, but even the mildest of climate projections will make these problems even worse, as was seen in the nearly decade-long drought that the country endured from 2003-2012. Additionally, hundreds of thousands living on the Australian coasts could be displaced by less than a meter’s worth of sea-level rise, with thousands more potentially seeking refuge in Australia from flooding islands elsewhere in the Pacific. The economic disadvantages of these scenarios are clear, but they can be mitigated if Abbot’s government can shift its stance to deal with these problems on a domestic level. The joint agreement between the U.S. and China last year would be a good first step for Australia to emulate, as it has the highest per-capita emissions of any developed country. By setting a goal close to China’s, Australia could level-off its CO2 emissions by 2030 while investing further in green energy like wind or solar (which it has an advantage in, as it receives the most solar radiation of any country on earth). It’s not a quick fix by any means, but a timescale such as this would give Australia’s economy time to ease itself away from using carbon like it does today while providing some space for the market to adapt to alternatives.