It must be something in the Italian mountain air, or perhaps just the presence of so much international media. But Kevin Rudd’s enthusiasm for the cause of climate change seems suddenly to have been revived.

For most of the last year our previously energised prime minister has been prepared to let his great moral and economic challenge moulder away in the background; what were once urgent and imperative measures have been postponed and watered down as he seemed ready to surrender to the forces of self-interest, short-sightedness, scepticism and sheer bloody ignorance.

But last week the crusading Kevin07 re-emerged to take what the real heavies (Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Al Gore) described as a leading role in the campaign. And as no less than 23 countries signed up to his clean coal initiative, along with more than 100 of the biggest and most fearsome multinationals, it was clear that climate change was once again to be front and centre, at least in the lead up to the vital Copenhagen conference.

The problem is, of course, that time is running out and as Rudd was overheard to admit to his Danish counterpart, we are still not on track for any sort of meaningful global agreement at Copenhagen or anywhere else. Obviously the G8 meeting was not the place to reach one, however much the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expanded it to include as many of his mates as possible; the gap between the developed and developing world can only be crossed when the principal players are all present in their own right.

This will presumably happen at the G20 in September, which really does represent our last, best chance. But this is not to say that Rudd’s latest excursion was all bells, whistles and photo opportunities, enjoyable as these undoubtedly were. The fact that the conference could adopt a unanimous resolution to limit the overall temperature rise to just two degrees showed that there is modicum of good will there.

Of course, in the absence of any concrete measures, the resolution could not even be described as “aspirational”; it was no more than a statement of a philosophical position. And in the absence of agreement from the developing nations, it is meaningless.

But China and India are still playing hardball. They have made it clear that they will not forego any aspect of their own programs of industrialisation and that any co-operation in the reduction of global emissions will have to be funded by the West. Ominously, India is now hinting that the game is already pretty much over; rather than seeking to prevent or minimise climate change, we should be spending time and effort on adapting to it.

If the most recent scientific data is right, this will prove impossible for many hundreds of millions of people, not to mention other species — unless, of course, tough action is taken. The only way it is likely to be taken if Copenhagen can reach a consensus, which, as Rudd points out, is not looking too probable.

But there are some signs of hope. Most of the G8 nations have signalled that, to break the impasse, they are prepared to increase their own targets at least for 2050; but more importantly, some are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. The initiative from Britain’s Gordon Brown, apparently endorsed by Rudd, for the developed world to put up $165 billion in a compensation package is a serious gesture, and if it can be on the table as a firm proposal for the G20 may just prove the ice-breaker that talk fest desperately needs.

With the big push for the Global Capture and Storage Institute, science just might produce the breakthrough we all so desperately need. The idea of clean coal is derided by the deep green lobby, and is certainly not an ideal solution to the more general environmental crisis. But given that all the biggest polluters have made it clear that they are going to remain coal-dependent for many years to come, clean coal may be our only chance of bring carbon emissions down to a manageable level before it is too late — if it isn’t already.

Rudd has every right to be pleased with his latest essay into international affairs; it has been productive in every sense. But in one respect he has been unlucky. A month ago our Mandarin speaking leader with his extensive Chinese contacts would have been the obvious choice as an emissary from the developed bloc to China, to try and negotiate some sort of basis for both the G20 and Copenhagen. But now the unfortunate case of Stern Hu has made that kind of diplomacy impossible.

It seems clear that if Hu had been engaged in any kind of espionage, it is the economic kind, which has always been acceptable in the West. In China, where industry is an integral part of the state, things are obviously more complex. The issue will require sensitive and serious handling; so has there ever been anything sillier that Malcolm Turnbull’s demand that Rudd pick up the phone to the Chinese President and demand Hu’s immediate release? “He’s one of us, he’s a fellow Australian,” raved our alternative Prime Minister.

Yes, Malcolm, but it’s not the 19th century any longer. China is a sovereign nation, a world power. So just what do you intend to do if the uppity heathens refuse to obey the white man’s legitimate orders? Send a gunboat?