With all the focus on the chaos in the Liberal Party, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the fundamental decision on what climate path Australia takes will be made by the Government, not the Opposition.

It is up to the Government to decide whether to wedge Malcolm Turnbull, or give him enough rope to hang himself, or, tragically least likely, actually take meaningful action to avert the climate crisis.

If Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Wong decide that the best political outcome for them is to tick the climate change box with a weak scheme, they will do any deal they need to do with the Opposition. The dodgy deal they made over the Renewable Energy Target and the noises recently made about a Morgan Stanley report recommending even more handouts to polluters, show that the Government will sell their own grandmothers to get the scheme through if they decide that is where the best politics lie.

On the other hand, if Rudd and Wong want to keep wedging Malcolm Turnbull by refusing to negotiate, they are perfectly capable of doing that.

The stark reality, of course, is that both of those options condemn Australia, our region and the planet to a future that none of us want to live in.

The UK Met Office’s warning overnight that “if we get a weak agreement at Copenhagen then there is not just a slight chance of a 4C rise, there is a really big chance” should be a wake up call to all those who still argue that we just need to do something about climate change, regardless of how weak and insubstantial that something might be.

At both the Australian domestic and global levels right now, we are heading for an agreement to fail. The political and media pressure to reach an agreement – any old agreement – is in serious danger of swamping the pressure to reach an agreement that will actually deliver a safe climate outcome.

Thankfully there is now, at the eleventh hour, a growing chorus of voices joining the Greens in saying that a weak deal is worse than no deal at all as it will lock in failure. Last week, Sir David King and Lord Stern told the Financial Times that it would be far better that no global climate deal is reached this year than that we get a weak deal that will be very difficult to unravel.

Now, the Global Humanitarian Forum meeting in Geneva, involving Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Rajendra Pachauri, James Wolfensohn and many other global luminaries, has come to the same conclusion, that: “No deal is better than a bad deal”: it would be more constructive to avoid conclusion at the 2009 UN Climate Conference at Copenhagen of any climate change agreement that would not provide for basic levels of safety, equity and predictability.

Just as the theatre of Liberal Party disintegration distracts us from the fact that it is Labor’s job to govern, the prospect of some kind of agreement distracts us from the main game. We have to remember that our goal is not simply to reduce carbon pollution. Our goal must be to pass on to our children, and our children’s children, the safe climate that has nurtured us and made human civilisation possible.

As Winston Churchill said, “It’s no use saying we are doing our best, we have to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

At last week’s UN meetings, it was China and India who held out the olive branch by clearly committing to action if rich countries lead. The leaders of the developed world, including Prime Minister Rudd, failed to move. Now is the chance – China and India have given us an open invitation. If countries like Australia move to serious emissions targets and commit to meaningful financing, Copenhagen could still deliver the outcome we need.

Likewise, at home, the Greens have offered five clear Senate votes in favour of the kind of strong scheme that the climate needs and the community wants. With the Opposition so fractured, the Government could find the support it needs for such an outcome in the Senate.

The climate change ball is in Mr Rudd’s court.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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