The Rudd Government remains in danger of having its reputation tarnished at the Bali conference by the activities of the Australian delegation.
While publicly denying it, senior members of the delegation are caucusing with Canada and Japan to water down the draft of the emerging Bali roadmap as well as taking obstructionist positions on a number of subsidiary issues.
The optics are a problem. For example, Australia sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada as the latter argued vigorously against allowing parties to assess a range of issues bearing on the desirability of including carbon capture and storage projects in the Clean Development Mechanism.
Quiet tete-a-tetes between senior Australian negotiators and fossil fuel lobbyists seem par for the course; we wait for the day when they will be locked in discussions with NGO reps as well.
Minister Wong finds herself in a position where she is seen to be siding with the recalcitrants (US, Canada and Japan) against the position emerging from the rest of the world.
Unexpectedly, acknowledgement in the roadmap’s preamble of the science-based target of a 25-40% cut for Annex 1 (developed) countries by 2020 has emerged as the acid test of each party’s commitment to a strong post-2012 regime.
Contrary to my comments yesterday, there is an implicit link between endorsing a range of cuts in the Bali roadmap and expectations about domestic policy. Australia is in a better position than most other Annex countries because we have not yet picked the low-hanging fruit in the form of cheap energy savings, but a 25+% below 1990 target would still present a challenge.
Yet if Mr Rudd and Senator Wong are now seen to reject the EU and G77 position on this question, they will be savaged by both the press and the NGOs. They could avoid some of the heat if they took a more progressive stance on several other issues, but that does not appear to be happening.
There are also rumblings from business representatives here. They know serious targets are coming and are looking for guidance so they can make long-term investments. As one said: “Just tell us what we should be aiming for”. A Bali roadmap without reference to numerical targets, even if they are aspirational, will just put things back by two years.