Abbott’s climate play: dropping off the back of the peloton


In road cycling terms, Australia’s climate effort is dropping off the back of the peloton. More than that we are now spreading tacks on the road up front.

Abbott, with his soul-mate from “Canadia” Stephen Harper, is proposing to build an alliance of conservative world leaders to block what he calls job-killing carbon pricing.

Dr Robyn Eckersley of Melbourne University who has been conducting research on climate change leadership finds that this would be “a very retrograde step at a very crucial time in international climate negotiations”. She also finds that he may struggle to find partners. The UK under David Cameron are unlikely to join. New Zealand has a conservative leader, and a carbon pricing scheme. Perhaps he’ll enlist the support of Saudi Arabia, who Eckersley sees as the biggest spoiler of all.

Eckersley points out that British Columbia, Quebec and California, one of the biggest economies in the world, have carbon pricing. China is launching seven provincial pilot emissions trading systems.

Abbott claims that the world is moving away from carbon pricing to ‘direct action’ type policies. Sophie Vorrath at RenewEconomy cites the World Bank as saying that carbon pricing is here to stay with more than 60 carbon pricing systems currently in operation or development globally.

At a press conference Abbott said that climate change is “not the only or even the most important problem that the world faces.”

Abbott doesn’t realise that the economy exists within the environment.

In this post last November on the outcomes of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Warsaw I referred to a graphic by Climate Tracker:


There is Australia at the back of the peloton. If everyone did what we are doing the world would be toast, and with no economy to speak of. Climate Tracker currently sees Australia’s effort as “inadequate” and getting worse. With our performance the world would be heading towards 600 ppm and 4°C.

Abbott’s Canadian performance was no doubt intended to be one in the eye for Barack Obama, who Abbott sees next. The signal is that Obama would be wasting his time persuading Abbott to put climate change on the G20 agenda.

Laura Tingle, talking to Phillip Adams, opined that addressing climate change in the G20 would be a precedent since the G20 so far has restricted itself to economics. She also said that there was nothing doing in terms of international co-operation, and they were all off doing there own thing.

That would be news to the people currently attending climate talks from 4 to 15 June in Bonn under the auspices of the UNFCCC. In the Warsaw post I laid out the sequence as follows:

The timetable is that leaders will meet with the UN Director General in New York on 23 September 2014 with a show and tell of their thinking on contributions, and no doubt receive some jaw-boning from him in return.

There will be more talking at the 20th COP in Lima from 1-12 December 2014, where a draft new climate agreement will be tabled. Then in April 2015 countries will seriously start putting their “contributions” (rather than “commitments”) on the table “without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions”. These “contributions” might be targets but could be other efforts to keep emissions down.

All this is aimed to get a legally binding agreement which reflects the “common but differentiated responsibility” of each state to be concluded at the Paris COP at the end of 2015 – for implementation in 2020 when the Kyoto Protocol officially expires.

So the leaders meet in September, but then not again before the deal is sealed in Paris in December 2015. In Lima I believe only the ministers will attend, noting that we did not bother to send a minister to Warsaw.

A new climate agreement is mainstream in policy and planning for the economy.

In spreading tacks on the road and trivialising the issue of climate change, Abbott and his government have form. In opposition in 2012 they would not grant Greg Combet a pair to attend the Rio+20 conference. In Warsaw, without a minister (who would have been Julie Bishop, since Greg Hunt is not allowed to conduct international negotiations) the Australian delegation was notorious, earning four “Fossil of the Day” awards and the overall “Colossal Fossil” for the meeting. Civil society groups like Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth, took the unprecedented step of simply walking out with a day still to go, muttering “Australia” as they went.

Being serious about climate change, the last thing Barack Obama would need is that kind of leadership at the G20.

10 thoughts on “Abbott’s climate play: dropping off the back of the peloton”

  1. Brian: No-one is going Abbott’s direct action rhetoric seriously until he actually gets something in place and working. Perhaps something as direct as the contract based ACT renewable auction schemewhich has become a key driver of investment in utility scale renewables.
    Problem is that there isn’t an economically way to convert the low grade hot air Abbott produces into something useful.

  2. Well, so what if we have fallen way behind the peloton? At least we have Belorus for company.
    Let’s just forget about wasting time and effort trying to persuade the Australian government to do something helpful and constructive. They will do as they are told and that’s that. Instead, let’s focus on our own individual efforts to reduce our own carbon footprints.
    For instance; we can’t get out of paying the electricity corporations the ‘line rental fee’ or whatever they call it – but we can reduce our power consumption to a point where it is hardly worthwhile reading our electricity meter. Right now, I’m sitting here with a 5watt compact bulb for light, the computer on minimal power, the fridge running at minimal consumption. I’m wearing thermal underwear, long socks, thick trousers and shirt, bulky pullover and hefty jacket; when I go to bed I will be under 2 warm blankets and 2 bulky doonas; the electric heater is still gathering dust; if I can do it so can you.

  3. Graham, don’t know about things up your way, but we’ve had warmish weather since a cold snap early in May, so our heaters are unused. That’s in a weatherboard house, albeit with pink batts since the 1980s.

    My real worry with Abbott is the tacks on the road. Can he do real damage internationally, or will he just be written off as a joke?

    Tonight on the 7.30 Report we had Obama and retiring senator Waxman saying climate change was the leading issue of our times.

  4. John @ 1
    That ACT system sounds very good – but does it also illustrate the options open to governments that haven’t sold their energy systems? Or could it also be done in other states or territories by regulation?

  5. John @ 1
    Following up my previous comment, I guess Obama is using regulation for similar ends. Is there anything to stop states here doing it? Victoria may have a Labor or Labor-Greens government by November, I wonder what they could do.

  6. Brian: We did have a warm spell but now it’s back to frightened brass monkeys at night and frosts on the way.
    Perhaps Abbott was sent on his trip to do as much damage as possible – just as Howard was used a decade back for different purposes. Maybe he is well regarded by people like himself – as well as by those befuddled by overindulgence in bourbon and beer and [brand-name] television as well as being unsure of the correct order of letters of the alphabet – but the people who do matter, such as the Corporate Leaders’ Group (of major corporations), will regard him as a fossil.

  7. Val: There is nothing stopping a state, city or private company for that matter doing something similar to what the ACT has done. In effect, the ACT system is essentially a “contract to supply” which is set up using a competitive tendering (Auction) process.
    Competitive tendering and contracts to supply are basic business tools.
    The big attraction of contracts is that they give the supplier legal protection. This means that an investor doesn’t have to worry that the next government will have different policies.
    The carbon price and the RET do not provide this protection.

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