Australia was rated equal last among developed countries in a recently published Climate Cooperation Index that compared the cooperative behaviour of countries within the international climate change regime between 1990 and 2005. The Rudd Government has had more than six months to develop its international climate policy, so what has changed?

The paper produced by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich pointed out that, “the effectiveness of an international agreement is limited by the commitment level of the agreement’s least interested party”. While the USA remains the least interested major economy — though perhaps not for long — after ratifying the Kyoto Protocol Australia should have moved rapidly up the ladder.

In the three UNFCCC (United Nationals Framework Convention on Climate Change) meetings since Rudd’s election, little or no progress has been made with respect to Australia’s cooperation in working towards a global agreement. At the Bali Conference last December Australia’s early positions were little different than under Howard. At the meeting in Bangkok in April, our delegates remained unsure of Australia’s policy, assuring Parties that emission reduction targets were to be “aspirational.” At the most recent meeting in Bonn, Antigua & Barbuda — the most cooperative nation under the Climate Change Cooperation Index — castigated Australia for blocking important forward direction at the talks.

Always the pragmatist, Rudd was right when he expressed doubts that the G8 meeting being held in Japan would achieve any major breakthroughs on climate change, yet there seems to be little international policy that Australia is proposing that may lead to a breakthrough.

A comprehensives review of our international climate policy is urgently required. An example of inspirational policy development is Norway. In an instance of recent exemplary cooperation, Norway — a member of the Umbrella Group that Australia chairs, proposed positive ways forward for international shipping emissions, as well as for adaptation funding for developing countries.

The only coherent proposal of note that Australia has made at international climate talks is for Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) to be included as an eligible project in the Clean Development Mechanism. This is a backward move that is designed to protect Australia’s interest as the world’s largest coal exporter, by allowing it to receive carbon credits for coal burnt in developing countries. Of course, coal is one of the primary causes of climate change, and the proposal underlines the ongoing capture of Labor’s climate policy by the fossil fuel industries and unions.

A better way to show leadership would be for Australia to propose a substantial transfer of renewable technology to developing countries. Such a gesture would benefit the global interests by mitigating climate change, as well as that of developing countries specifically by allowing them greater self-sufficiency.

Australia needs to do more than just look to its own short-term interest to be seen as an international leader on climate change. Rudd must provide a serious and ambitious short-term emission reduction target and develop proposals that will provide the inspiration for other Parties to follow.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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