Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Why do all the UN"s Climate Change negotiations take place in beautiful resorts? Perhaps it would be more appropriate for them to meet in Iceland in winter . . . more might get done.

This is a (brief) summary of what Australia has done to combat changing weather over the past three years. Many promises; a great deal of talk - a bit lighter on the action.


On Saturday, at the conclusion of the Cancun climate change conference, Greg Combet issued a press release. But before we get to that, it's worth considering just how diligently Australia has worked towards dealing with this issue. A chronology might provide some insight.

10 March 2007. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd describes climate change as "the great moral challenge of our generation". Although Prime Minister John Howard has accepted the reality of climate change and promised to limit carbon emissions, Rudd easily outflanks the coalition. He portrays the PM as someone who just doesn't ‘get’ the danger it represents to Australia. Rudd is overwhelmingly elected on 24 November, 2007 appointing a surprise choice, Penny Wong, as Climate Change Minister. Brendan Nelson becomes opposition leader.

3 December 2007. Rudd signs the Kyoto protocol as his first official act after being sworn in as prime minister. Just over a week later, the first significant discrepancy begins to open up between the PM’s words and his actions at a UN conference in Bali. Perhaps surprisingly, Rudd has adamantly refused to sign up for any targets whatsoever that will cut greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong indicates she is waiting for "more information" before Australia commits to action. A report is commissioned from Ross Garnaut. Time passes.

16 September 2008. Malcolm Turnbull takes over as opposition leader, winning victory by four votes. Nelson's leadership of the Liberals has been destroyed by, in part, vacillation over the coalition's response to climate change. Two weeks later Garnaut’s final report is released. Wong insists that the government would examine it, but notes that economic responsibility would guide her response. This seems surprising, because Garnaut is already the Distinguished Professor of Economics at the ANU and his economic credentials are a key reason he was given the job.

15 December 2008. The government's White Paper is released. This calls for a risible minimum reduction of 5 percent of emissions by the year 2020. This tiny target is greeted with derision by environmental activists. Despite belated modifications the legislation based on the government's policy later fails to pass parliament. There is widespread criticism that Labor has failed to make any case for its plans to deal with climate change. Instead, the government appears happy to watch the opposition tearing itself apart.

27 July 2009. Tony Abbott describes the science of climate change as "highly contentious". That October he tells a town meeting in Beaufort climate change is "absolute crap". He concedes that "the politics of this are tough for us (because) eighty percent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger". Later, he was to describe this statement as "hyperbole".

1 December 2009. Abbott replaces Turnbull as opposition leader, winning the second ballot by a single vote after Joe Hockey was eliminated in the first round. One MP voted informally. Abbott's immediately announced he'd be opposing the proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme that the government had negotiated with Turnbull. The Greens also virulently oppose Rudd's scheme, ensuring its defeat. It can only be passed after a double-dissolution election.

18 December 2009. The Copenhagen climate change summit ends in abject failure.

27 April 2010. Lenore Taylor discloses in the Sydney Morning Herald that Rudd, urged on by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, has decided to indefinitely defer legislation to deal with climate change. Within a month the PM's popularity suffers the fastest collapse ever witnessed since polling began. Essential Research finds only 39 percent of voters still trust Rudd, while the party's primary vote had plunged from 48% to just 37 percent within six months. Senior Labor figures insist Mr Rudd's leadership was safe but he has "no further margin for error".

24 June 2010. Gillard takes over from Rudd. She identifies climate change as one of three significant areas where the government has "lost its way", even though she was one of the few politicians Rudd have bothered to consult. Gillard insists she will prosecute the case for a carbon price, but adds a vital caveat. "We will need to establish a community consensus for action," she says.

23 July 2010. During the election campaign Gillard unveils an bizarre idea to achieve this consensus. She will supposedly convene a 150 person citizens’ assembly to examine the evidence of climate change and the consequences of introducing a market-based emissions mechanism to reduce carbon production. The assembly will comprise exactly the same number of people as there are MPs in parliament. Participants of both bodies will supposedly be “representative of the wider community" although how the citizens assembly will be chosen is not clear. The plan is widely dismissed as little more than a joke.

1 September 2010. Gillard signs an agreement with the Greens to work towards an eventual carbon price. Labor agrees to create a parliamentary climate change committee. The coalition describes the parliamentary committee as "repugnant", although it refuses to rule out participation in future. Yet Gillard still persists in insisting she will be "furthering and discussing the idea of the citizens’ assembly". No one is quite sure why.

14 September 2010. Gillard is sworn and Greg Combet takes over responsibility as Minister for Climate Change. The indecisive Penny Wong is moved to Finance. Her three years in the job have been marked by a complete failure. With the exception of the introduction of the pink Batt insulation scheme, she has failed to accomplish anything lasting.

7 December 2010. The worst floods in at least 40 years begin inundating eastern Australia. No one from the government bothers to explain that these are a direct result of climate change which will result in an increased number of extreme weather events. No local projections of the potential effects of climate change have been made available to farmers or growers to allow them to plan for the future.

11 December 2010. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet issues a statement from Cancun, Mexico. “The Gillard Government is committed to taking strong action on climate change and the most important thing the Australian Government can now do is work towards the introduction of a carbon price into our economy, which is the fastest, cheapest and fairest way to reduce carbon pollution.”

Yeah. Of course.

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