Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Friendly old girl of a town
‘Neath her tavern light
On this merry night
Let us clink and drink one down
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Salty old queen of the sea
Once I sailed away
But I’m home today
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful
Copenhagen for me!

Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are big fans of Copenhagen.

For Turnbull, Copenhagen is exactly the reason why the CPRS Bill should be delayed until early next year. It would give him a few precious extra months to convince his reluctant colleagues of the need for doing some sort of deal with the government to get the infernal issue of climate change off the agenda. It’s been one of several reasons why the Coalition delayed putting forward a position on emissions trading, including its own internal study, Senate inquiries and that jointly commissioned work from Frontier Economics that has now been forgotten.

For a while, Turnbull also insisted that we needed to wait until Waxman-Markey had made its way through the giant sausage machine of the US Congress, but the glacial progress of that Bill, and the Senate version, Kerry-Boxer, means that line has disappeared from his argumentation.

Instead, there’s now another excuse: the fact that the Bill is so complex that it will take much longer than the time allotted to it for debate between now and the end of the year. Julie Bishop today called for “one of the greatest debates of our generation”.

Ah, for the glory days of the Howard government’s last term when the Coalition thought a fast Bill was a good Bill and thought nothing of ramming through major reforms overnight.


One hopes Ian Macfarlane keeps the family pet away from his amendments lest the dog eat the Coalition’s homework.

Turnbull’s not the only one using Copenhagen as an excuse, though. For the Prime Minister, Copenhagen is the reason he needs to reintroduce his CPRS Bill in November, conveniently creating the opportunity for a double-dissolution trigger. The entire reason we’re having this circus at the moment is because of the Prime Minister’s purported need for certainty at Copenhagen.

As Richard Denniss pointed out so well yesterday, Copenhagen has nothing to do with the CPRS, emissions trading or any other mechanism for achieving emission reductions. It is entirely about an agreement on reduction targets.

For that matter, Copenhagen isn’t even likely to yield a deal, which doubtless suits Coalition opponents of action just fine.

But the real meaning of Copenhagen is this:

Everyone knows we only produce 1.5% of global emissions. The solution to climate change is almost entirely out of our hands on that front. It is up to the major economies to broker a deal. Australia is a marginal player. But we’re also the developed country most at risk from climate change, with potentially catastrophic economic and social impacts. Copenhagen is an opportunity for the world to act to prevent those impacts. There will be others, but every delay means greater climate change impacts and increases the costs of action. We’ve comfortably displaced our concerns about climate change onto foreigners — Pacific Islanders, Bangladeshis, “climate refugees”.

But the concern should be a lot closer to home. Copenhagen is the chance to do something for workers in the tourism sector who’ll lose their jobs as the Barrier Reef dies. The farmers who surrender to prolonged drought. The people contracting dengue fever in Queensland and the Top End. The regional centres that start shrinking under economic pressure. The bushfire victims in the south-east of the continent. Copenhagen’s their chance.

Australia goes to Copenhagen as a pleader for help, for urgent action to forestall a climate crisis that is coming faster than expected and that will hit us earlier and harder than it hits the Chinese, the Americans or the Europeans. Hell, the Russians would be happy to see temperatures go up a few degrees, given how damn cold most of their country is.

Instead, we’re fronting up to Copenhagen insouciantly talking about schedules and the importance of climate aid, without offering a single dollar, and boasting of our willingness to have a unilateral 5% — 5%! — cut in emissions by 2020, meaning, of course, under the CPRS that we’ll actually increase our total emissions but buy enough permits from PNG and Indonesia to enable us to meet the target.

Copenhagen isn’t just an excuse for our politicians, it’s a delusion, one based on the idea that we attend as a powerbroker, not as one who desperately needs the world to act.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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