At the recent UN climate talks in Poland, poor nations and NGOs singled out the Australian delegation for doing the most to block progress on a new deal to cut carbon emissions.
The 132 poor countries grouped in the G77 Alliance staged an unprecedented walkout of the summit on November 20. Bolivian negotiator Rene Orellana said the walkout took place “because we do not see a clear cut commitment by developed countries to reach an agreement” about a deal to compensate vulnerable nations for the impacts of climate change.
During the session, the Australian delegation dressed in shorts and T-shirts and “gorged on snacks”, reported RTCC.org. After many hours of negotiation, the Australians waited until the early hours of the morning before they moved to block any chance of agreement, sparking the walkout from outraged G77 delegates.
Saleemul Huq from the International Institute for Environment and Development told RTCC.org: “The negotiations were actually going on reasonably well ... It went on into the night, well into the early morning, discussing things in what I think was a spirit of cooperation. But then at the end, the Australian delegation just put brackets around everything. All that negotiation went to waste.”
ActionAid International’s Harjeet Singh told the Inter Press Service: “The Australians were behaving like high school boys in class, their behaviour was rude and disrespectful.”
Throughout the two-week conference, the Australian delegation was widely criticised for its blocking efforts on several fronts. Australia won the summit’s Fossil of the Day award five times for doing the most to stall progress, a record number for any country.
However, Australia did earn the admiration of US climate denier Marc Morano, who told a Warsaw press conference: “The model for the world right now should be Australia ... Viva Australia — let's hope the world follows Australia's model.”
In particular, Australia led the resistance from the rich countries to climate finance and compensation measures, meant to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to the extreme weather and sea level rises caused by climate change.
The case for climate compensation rests on recognition that rich countries are mostly responsible for the past two centuries of carbon emissions, which is causing dire climate impacts that are certain to get worse. It also recognises that the poorest nations, who are least to blame for the climate problem, will be the worst affected.
The Global Climate Risk Index 2014, released on November 13 by the NGO Germanwatch, confirmed that the poor countries are already bearing the brunt of dangerous climate change.
It found Burma, Honduras and Haiti were the countries most affected “by extreme weather events between 1993 and 2012”. Of the 10 most affected nations, all were from the global South. Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan topped the list of the worst affected nations in 2012.
A recent report released by the United Nations Environment Programme — Africa’s Adaptation Gap — said that climate change already costs Africa $7-$15 billion a year. The continent’s climate adaptation costs could reach a massive $350 billion a year by 2070 unless emissions fall sharply. The report said the climate adaptation cost to Africa would still reach $200 billion a year even if warming was kept below 2C, a target that looks increasingly unlikely.
Uganda’s environment minister Ephraim Kamuntu said the report “provides concrete evidence that climate change in Africa is a reality. We have to adapt or perish, but our capacity to respond is limited”.
At the summit in Poland, the G77 countries argued that the rich nations have an obligation to cut emissions fast and also pay compensation to help poor nations adapt. In response, the rich nations said they had no intention of doing either.
Britain backed Australia’s stance against climate compensation. On November 19, its chief negotiator Ed Davey told the summit: “We don’t accept the argument on compensation. We never have and we are not intending to start now.”
A US state department cable leaked to the press on November 14 also instructed US negotiators to block an agreement on climate compensation at the Warsaw summit.
A push by rich nations, especially the European Union, to endorse a global carbon market also fell flat at the UN summit. Poor nations refused to go along with the plan for new carbon markets, saying rich nations should focus on making cuts to their own emissions first.
The UN summit was also heavily criticised by climate justice activists, who pointed out that fossil fuel corporations had unprecedented access to the negotiations.
At the behest of the Polish government, this year’s climate summit was officially sponsored by some of the world’s biggest corporate polluters. Sponsors included the carmakers BMW and General Motors, French energy giant Alstom, the world’s biggest steel company ArcelorMittal, Emirates airlines and the Polish Energy Group — a government-owned firm that runs 40 coal-fired power stations.
Pascoe Sabido from the Corporate Europe Observatory told Democracy Now on November 18 there was an “unprecedented level of corporate influence” over UN climate talks.
He said: “We’re actually seeing us moving backwards in terms of tackling climate change rather than forwards. And unless we remove the harmful and damaging influence of large corporations from these climate talks, we’re not going to get there.”