With the help of an all too submissive local media, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has crafted an image for himself as a world leader on climate change. This image took a beating at December's Copenhagen climate change summit.
The Australian government, and Rudd in particular, was singled out by delegates from the poor nations for blocking progress on a strong climate deal. As the summit ended in failure, Australia's reputation among most countries was that of a climate villain, not a climate leader.
During the summit, the chief negotiator of the G77 group of 132 poor countries at Copenhagen, Lumumba Di-Aping, appealed to Australians to see through Rudd's dishonesty on climate change.
"The message that the Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd is giving to his people, his citizens, is a fabrication, it's fiction, it does not relate to the facts because his actions are climate change scepticism in action", Di-Aping told ABC radio's AM on December 16.
In part, his comments were prompted by Australia's push, along with other big polluters, to kill off the most progressive parts of the Kyoto protocol climate treaty.
Kyoto included the recognition that nations had "common but differentiated responsibilities" to cut emissions. This meant the rich countries, responsible for about 75% of past emissions, had the biggest duty to curb carbon pollution.
Australia, the industrialised world's worst polluter per capita, was part of the push to remove this legally-binding obligation in favour of a "single track" climate treaty, despite the protests of poor countries.
Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh denounced Australia's aggressive attempts to shift more of the burden for emissions cuts onto poor countries. He told media on December 16: "Australia is sort of the Ayatollah of the single track."
The Australian government's involvement in drafting a secret climate agreement, known as the "Danish text", also earned the ire of the majority of the world.
The Danish text was leaked to the British Guardian on December 8 — the second day of the Copenhagen summit. It proposed the Kyoto protocol be abandoned in favour of a new treaty that allowed rich countries to emit twice as much.
It also sidelined the United Nations' involvement in future climate talks and set a global warming target of 2° Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, up from today's 0.8°C.
The December 9 Age said Australia took part in a so-called "circle of commitment" of rich countries that helped draft the agreement. The US, Britain and Denmark were also involved.
Di-Aping said the Danish text was "incredibly imbalanced … intended to subvert, absolutely and completely, two years of negotiations. It does not recognise the proposals and the voice of developing countries."
Referring to the Australian-sponsored text at a December 8 meeting at the conference he said: "We are being asked to sign a suicide pact … I would rather die with my dignity than sign a deal that will channel my people into a furnace."
Throughout the Copenhagen summit, the poor nations argued for an agreement to limit average global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. Such a target would require a rapid shift away from burning fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, especially in the industrialised world.
The tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu argued passionately at Copenhagen for a 1.5°C target. It said that 2°C of warming would mean the nation would disappear due to rising sea levels. Tuvalu's Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia said on December 17: "To go over that [1.5°C] limit, it will be a graveyard for all the living things in Tuvalu."
Yet at a press conference at the end of the summit, Ielemia revealed that Australian officials had tried to bully Tuvalu to change its position.
"There are some countries like Australia who have been trying to arrange a meeting with us to probably water down our position on 1.5 degrees Celsius", he said.
"We did not attend that meeting, but I heard from other small islands that Australia was trying to tell them if they agree to the two degrees limit, money would be on the table for adaptation process. That's their choice to accept the money and back down. But Tuvalu will not. As I said in my speech, 1.5 degrees Celsius is our bottom line."
Tuvalu's chief negotiator at Copenhagen, Ian Fry, told ABC TV that Rudd had approached him in person to tell him Tuvalu's position was "unproductive".
On December 18, the international NGOs Avaaz and the Climate Action Network awarded Australia their Fossil of the Day award for "bullying Tuvalu and other small island nation states".
Towards the close of the conference, Australia's performance had become so unpopular that an address by Australian climate change minister Penny Wong was interrupted with jeers and chants, said the December 17 Australian.
By contrast the next speaker, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, received "a standing ovation" for his call for system change to stop climate change. "Socialism … that's the way to save the planet, capitalism is the road to hell ... let's fight against capitalism and make it obey us", he said.