The tragedy of last week’s G8 meeting was that, under obdurate resistance from Bush, the Europeans had to abandon their policy goal of an agreed G8 commitment to a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 in order to achieve a global warming of not more than two degrees. Instead, the G8 agreed only “to consider” this target.

This is a global tragedy because of what has been lost. Firstly, more precious time, and secondly, the opportunity for countries comprising around 20% of world economic output to send a real policy signal to China, India and Russia, not to mention other significant climate change players like Australia and Brazil.

It is hard to see how APEC will produce anything stronger than this lame outcome. All the big players there — US, China, India and Japan — will be temperamentally inclined to go no further than the G8 went. The scientific data will not change significantly between now and September. APEC will echo the G8 and thus be another international policy opportunity missed, with Howard expected to disguise that failure in a flowery but empty “Sydney Declaration”.

Labor must go on the offensive now, pointing out these realities and stressing the bankruptcy of the Bush and Howard do-nothing policies. Or they will come to look less and less distinguishable from Howard on climate change response. And that would drain more votes away from them in coming months because significant numbers of Australians do now care about this issue.

Labor could lose the unlosable election if it does not grasp this. Labor must work to sensitise people to the tragic reality of what happened at the G8 meeting. Labor must tell the truth on how Bush spoilt it: how, due to his mulish refusal to accept real targets, more precious time to effect real global energy policy change was lost. But Labor may be too scared to come out and say this.

As Marian Wilkinson wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, only one good thing came out of the G8 meeting; a commitment by all the key leaders to work inside the UN framework to find a post-Kyoto agreement. The final G8 summit declaration said:

We acknowledge that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change.

Wilkinson predicts that, despite all the talk of a declaration on climate change emerging from APEC, the hard negotiating will be focused on UN talks ironically to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, in Bali in December. After the Australian election.

Labor needs urgently to digest the policy implications of the failed G8 meeting, and come out firmly on the front foot again on climate change policy. If they don’t they might as well hand the election to Howard.