How much does the Stern Report on climate change up the ante for the Australian government? Here’s a hint. The release of the authoritative report by the former World Bank chief economist — predicting that climate change will reduce global GDP by up to 20% by the beginning of the next century – was greeted with this modest-sized headline on The Australian’s front page today: “PM defiant despite global warming alarm”.

The gist of the PM’s response is that Australia won’t sign an international agreement that doesn’t put the same limits on China and India, that coal will continue to provide most of the world’s energy for several more decades, and that “the only things that will ever replace the current dirty power stations are cleaner uses of fossil fuel, or nuclear power … you will never replace them with solar or wind.” Meanwhile his Treasurer hit the airwaves this morning to report that although Australia won’t sign the Kyoto Protocol, we’re “on track” to meet our Kyoto emissions target — an increase of 8% in emissions from 1990 levels by 2008-12 compared with a decrease of between 5-8% for 32 of the 38 other developed countries.

So is there anything that will motivate the government to act? Logic? Science? Genuine concern for the future of the planet?

Nup. How about public discussion? Today, the Stern Report was the lead news story on around half of radio news bulletins in Australia, a topic of intense discussion on many talkback radio programs, and a page-one story in most (but not all) major dailies. On the other hand, the news media with the biggest audiences – the main TV news bulletins — covered the story this way last night (figures taken from Sydney bulletins): Channel 9 (4th story from the top), Channel 7 (6th story), Channel 10 (15th story), ABC (7th story), SBS (5th story).

John Howard, unlike most of the rest of us, should be very pleased with that coverage.