Environment Minister Ian Campbell has spent much of the Nairobi climate change conference publicly badmouthing the Kyoto Protocol. But a document obtained by Crikey suggests that, behind the scenes, Australia is scrabbling to be let in the Kyoto door. 

As Australia continues to publicly discredit the protocol, this private submission shows that the Australian government is lobbying to get special access to Protocol meetings, requesting a status somewhere between observers and parties to the Protocol.

Australia, like the US, is only granted observer status because it refuses to ratify Kyoto. As an observer, Australia is afforded the same importance as a lowly NGO – we’re there to be seen and not heard.

“Once the deals have been worked through, Australia is allowed to come into the formal meetings and agree or disagree,” Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute told Crikey. “But it’s the informal meetings between the top contact groups that you want to be in on … that’s where all the business really gets done.”

Publicly Australia has expressed no confidence in Kyoto, and actively moved to derail it, “but in private Australia wants to move motions, make statements, move votes,” says Hamilton.

The view among Kyoto signatories is that Australia and the US “have repudiated the Kyoto Protocol yet still want to be in the processes so they can continue to spoil,” says Hamilton. “There is a lot of anger from other parties.”

“Australia has consistently played a spoiling role trying to prevent agreements and water down agreements to include loop holes,” says Hamilton. “They’re seen as a trouble maker. And often when the US dozen’t want to argue a particular position, they’ll have a proxy state to argue it, often an OPEC country but sometimes Australia…At certain times we have performed the function of the attack dog.”

Crikey understands that in November last year a delegation from the US was forcibly removed from a meeting by UN security at the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal.

Then in May it was Australia’s turn to be humiliated at a meeting at a UN conference in Bonn, when one of the parties stood up and objected to the presence of an Australian delegation. A vigorous debate followed as to whether Australia should be asked to leave — Crikey understands that the delegation wasn’t removed, but Australia was then moved to make their submission to the UNFCCC:

Click for a larger image

EU insiders have told Crikey that the UNFCCC has not responded.

Donald Rothwell, Challis Professor of International Law and Director of the Sydney Centre for International and Global Law at ANU, told Crikey that Australia doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. In fact, “it would be arguable that a state which has clearly indicated it does not intend to proceed to ratification or accession of the Protocol and which has actively denounced the Protocol should not continue to enjoy observer status when that State may be seeking to actively undermine the Protocol,” says Rothwell.

So how to explain the contradiction between Australia’s public stance on Kyoto and its private approach? “Behind the scenes at the diplomatic level there are different, softer, positions being put forward,” says Professor Rothwell. Campbell’s comments “are designed for domestic consumption…but internationally it creates some distrust for Australia’s position and our ability to advance argument is undermined…”

Professor Rothwell says Australia’s public position won’t help when it comes to the really crucial negotiations — what happens after 2012 when Kyoto lapses.

“Of course there is going to be a Kyoto 2 because Kyoto 1 ends in 2012,” Corin Millais, chief executive of the Climate Institute told Crikey, “but the irony is that you can only influence or participate in this process – Kyoto 2 – if you are a ratifier of Kyoto 1…as the Chinese said yesterday.”

Peter Fray

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