Climate logic of the madhouse

Issue 

As the November 2-6 international climate change talks in Barcelona ended in poorly-concealed acrimony and weary expressions of "official optimism", a funny thing happened in mainstream Australian media.

The biggest story at Barcelona should have been about Australia — for all the wrong reasons.

On November 5, top African negotiator and chairperson of the G77 group of underdeveloped nations, Lumumba Di Aping, singled out Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and British PM Gordon Brown for undermining the negotiations.

African delegates walked out for part of the conference, in protest at the rich nations' refusal to consider emissions cuts based on climate science.

ABC Radio's PM said Di Aping was most angry that rich nations like Australia had refused to agree to legally binding emissions cut targets at the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks.

"If there is anything that you know about politics and political manifestos … is that they're worth very little", he said. "Tell me of any politician who delivered on his political manifesto. Was it Gordon Brown? Was it Kevin Rudd?"

It was an extraordinary attack. The chief representative of a bloc of 132 nations held up Australia as an example of hypocrisy on climate change.

In the restrained language of international climate diplomacy, Di Aping's public rebuke of Rudd was the equivalent of scratching out an opponent's eyes.

Yet by the next morning the story was dead — pushed aside by a November 6 policy speech by Rudd to the conservative Lowy Institute.

Suddenly, the big news was not that Australia's name was mud with most countries in the world for helping to sabotage a strong international climate agreement. Rather, the "news" was what the Australian government said about itself.

"Climate change deniers are small in number, but they are too dangerous to be ignored", Rudd said.

"And the danger they pose is this — by collapsing political momentum towards national and global action on climate change, they collapse global political will to act at all. They are the stick that gets stuck in the wheel that despite its size may yet bring the train to a complete stop."

Crikey.com's Bernard Keane wrote on November 9: "If the Prime Minister is so angry about the efforts of denialists to derail action on climate change, then here's a suggestion: stop giving them taxpayers' money. Government funding flows through a variety of means to some of Australia's biggest polluters and opponents of an effective emissions trading scheme."

It is estimated that the federal government now gives fossil-fuel intensive industries $9 billion a year in subsidies. Its misnamed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will hand out billions more to the biggest polluters if it passes a November vote in parliament.

More than anything else, Rudd's speech was designed to prepare the electorate for complete failure at Copenhagen — a failure his government is helping to engineer.

As climate activist Geoff Lazarus pointed out in the November 11 Canberra Times, this is not a new tactic for the Labor government. "For many months, Rudd and Wong have attacked the Coalition parties for not being fair dinkum on climate change.

"While they are absolutely guilty as charged, it's been a hypocritical political charade more to do with outmaneuvering the Coalition parties with voters as well as placating the mining industry and major industry associations, than meeting the challenge of potentially devastating global warming."

The tiny Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives is one of the few nations taking on this challenge. The Maldives, the lowest-lying nation in the world, is at dire risk from rising sea levels.

Over November 9-10 it hosted the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 11 countries most immediately at risk from dangerous climate change. There, it repeated its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2020, and urged other nations to follow.

In his opening address to the conference, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed attacked the rich countries for steering Copenhagen towards a "global suicide pact" when it must be a "global survival pact", said Voanews.com on November 9.

"Every country arrives at the negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible and never to make commitments unless someone else does first", Nasheed said. "This is the logic of a mad house, a recipe for collective suicide."