Saturday, 5 April 2014

Anger Mounts After Australian PM Calls Climate Concerns ‘Clutter,’ Refuses To Mention Them

Anger Mounts After Australian PM Calls Climate Concerns ‘Clutter,’ Refuses To Mention Them

Anger Mounts After Australian PM Calls Climate Concerns ‘Clutter,’ Refuses To Mention Them

By Ari Phillips on
April 3, 2014 at 11:49 am

"Anger Mounts After Australian PM Calls Climate Concerns ‘Clutter,’ Refuses To Mention Them"

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013.

CREDIT: AP/Rob Griffith

In December, Australia took over leadership of the G20. In normal
times, this would’ve been welcome news for the global community deeply
concerned with the impacts of climate change. But these are not normal
times in Australia, politically or environmentally. Before Tony Abbott
was elected Prime Minister of Australia last September, the country was
known for passing a national carbon tax, striving for ambitious
greenhouse gas reductions targets, investing heavily in renewable
energy, and valuing the input of leading climate scientists. Since then,
however, Abbott and his Liberal Party coalition in power have rolled
back any initiative on climate and environment as much as possible, and
pivoted to a focus on growing the economy through doubling-down on
Australia’s powerful fossil fuel industry.

Abbott has not been hesitant to push his agenda globally either, if
he thinks it will benefit him at home. In October, he engaged U.N.
Climate Chief Christiana Figueres in a debate over the link between
climate change and bushfires in Australia, saying
that Figueres was “talking through her hat” in regards to climate
change’s role in the fires. Then in the lead up to the G20 meeting in
Sydney in February, Abbott said he didn’t want to “clutter up the G20
agenda with every worthy and important cause, because if we do, we will
squander the opportunity to make a difference in the vital area of
economic growth.”

His remarks, made at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in
Jan­uary, were clearly targeted at those who want climate change to play
a leading role on the G20 agenda, including Christine Lagarde, managing
director of the International Monetary Fund, who told Australian television that the issue of climate change “must be dealt with.”

On Wednesday, Lord Nicholas Stern, professor of Economics and
Government at London School of Economics and president of the British
Academy, weighed in on the subject with an op-ed in Australia’s The Age newspaper.

“How Australia tackles the threat of climate change is of global
importance as developing countries look to rich countries to set an
example because of their better technologies and history of high
emissions of greenhouse gases,” he wrote.
“The international community is now gearing up for new agreement on
climate change to be signed in Paris in 2015, after all countries,
including Australia, agreed in 2010 that global emissions of greenhouse
gases need to be cut sharply by 2050 in order to avoid the huge risks
that would be associated with a rise in global average temperature of
more than 2 C.”

The U.S. has also been highly critical of Abbott’s neglect to include
climate change on the G20 agenda. President Obama’s G20 emissary,
Caroline Atkinson, recently said
that within the G20 there is a growing understanding of the importance
of addressing climate and energy issues and that these issues also
impact Australia’s economic growth priorities. Then this week, Heather
Zichal, who up until recently was President Obama’s lead climate and
energy adviser, said
“Ignoring one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced is simply
not an option … sitting out climate change negotiations is not in
Australia’s or any other nations’ interest. It is a huge mistake.”

Zichal suggests that focusing on economic productivity could be the
sweet spot that Australia could use to balance climate concerns and
economic growth goals. Reducing pollution and emissions from power
plants and imposing strong energy efficiency measures on transport and
infrastructure can boost energy productivity, save money, create jobs,
and reduce emissions. “Ultimately, across all economic sectors, energy
productivity is the most reliable, cleanest, and cheapest resource,”
Zichal said.

The G20 has acknowledged this, and in 2009, years before Abbott took
the reins, the group pledged to abolish inefficient fossil fuel
subsidies over the medium term because they
“encourage wasteful consumption, distort markets, impede investment in
clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with climate change.”

“Access to diverse, reliable, affordable and clean energy is critical for sustainable growth,” the statement reads.
“Increasing clean and renewable energy supplies, improving energy
efficiency, and promoting conservation are critical steps to protect our
environment, promote sustainable growth and address the threat of
climate change. Accelerated adoption of economically sound clean and
renewable energy technology and energy efficiency measures diversifies
our energy supplies and strengthens our energy security.”

The recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that
soaring greenhouse gas emissions amplify risks of food insecurity, mass
migration, and violent conflict — as well as potentially costing
trillions of dollars in environmental damage. Australia is no stranger
to this, having gone through record-breaking droughts and heatwaves in
the last decade, and having many native flora and fauna already in
danger — the signs are hard to ignore, even from an ivory tower like
Tony Abbott’s. But things are even more dire in other areas of the
world, like the nearby Pacific Islands.

The foreign minister of Marshall Islands, Tony de Brum, recently said
he’s extremely disappointed by Australia’s approach to climate change.
“They must set the tone for commitment, for progressive movement on
climate change and not backpedal on commitments already made,” he said.
“We’ve heard that in the upcoming G20 summit, Australia is going to
leave climate change off the agenda because it did not want it cluttered
with climate change issues — this is appalling.”

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