Outlining a Progressive Future

Australia’s Role in Copenhagen

I just watched a video clip where Ross Gaurnaut stated that he believed that overall, the Australian delegation played  a positive role in Copenhagen. Gaurnaut here made it really clear that he didn’t know what he was talking about on this topic and given that, I would like to set the record straight on the role Australia played in CPH. This is because it was not positive, but rather a very negative role.

When you are outside the COP conferences it is really hard to get any information about what is exactly going on. Unfortunately I was outside during the COP but through talking to people and researching some different places I managed to get some information regarding how Australia was acting inside the conference. There are two key issues here as to why Australia’s influence was so negative.

Australia’s Position: Of key importance to this debate is the position Australia took to the conference. We all know what this is, have debated it greatly over the past year and have differing views on it. But, did it go down well in Copenhagen? The answer is yes to some, and no to others. The yes is for the developed countries; whilst the no applies to the developing world. For developed countries, the Australian plan, whilst not an original one (this is extremely important to keep in mind) is one that others (developed countries) around the world want to emulate. This is a plan of cap and trade, with minimum target reductions and large amounts of offsetting to the third world (to get a discussion on cap and trade check out this website – http://www.storyofstuff.com/capandtrade/). However, just because the developed world wants to emulate Australia’s plan, that does not mean that it is a positive thing.

The biggest problem with such a plan in the international world is that their development has completely left out the developing world. This is true not only for the way these plans have been developed (for example, the Danish text (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/copenhagen-climate-summit-disarray-danish-text), of which Australia played a major role), but also through the actual contents of these plans. The Danish text for example, split the conference in half. This was because it had been developed by a small ‘boys club’ from the developed world that completely left out all interests of developing countries. Second, its contents completely favoured the developed world, including there being no justice elements and a plan that would see the developed world still being able to emit more per capita by 2050 than the developing world.

Second, regarding Australia’s positioning was the complete refusal of our delegation to make any compromises. This included a refusal to make any commitments to international finance, a refusal to budge at all on our targets and a refusal to reject offsetting.

Finance: Throughout the conference, finance was a big issue. However, whilst we saw the EU and United States make big announcements on this issue during the conference Australia refused to put anything on the table. Such a refusal simply bread suspicion within countries minds that we were not going to do any good on this issue.

Targets: Like the rest of the developed world, Australia refused to budge on targets. This occurred both for our own targets, but also the desired target of 2 degrees warming (until the US brokered a deal on this). Limiting warming to 2 degrees was a big issue in these talks and Australia (who, when chairing the umbrella group of parties in Bali, 2007, removed the 2 degree target from discussions) showed no real effort to make 2 degrees a key issue. Then, even when 2 degrees was adopted, Australia did nothing to change our domestic targets, even after a leaked report said that if everyone adopted the 5-15% we have offered (noting that the 25% offer will never occur given the conditions placed on it) we would see warming of between 3 – 3.9 degrees. Also important here is the refusal of Australia to even acknowledge a target of 350ppm; the limit scientist say is safe for our atmosphere.

Offsetting: Another key issue in these debate was offsetting, and this is extremely important to Australia given that the CPRS is based entirely on international offsetting until 2034. During the conference a draft deal was sent around that legislated cuts, but stated that these cuts could not be met through offsetting. Removing offsetting was a good plan, given the problems with it (see video link about cap and trade above). However, when the plan went around, Australia opposed it strongly and worked very hard to ensure that the offsetting language was removed. Refusing to have a discussion on the offsetting issue caused many tensions between the developed and developing world and Australia’s active opposition to these plans caused problems.


In the first week of the COP the small island state of Tuvalu demanded that the conference be suspended because the developed world (including Australia) was refusing to have a discussion on extending the Kyoto Protocol. This was part of a push from the developed world to see climate change talks move away from legally binding deals and more into the undemocratic systems such as the World Bank, G20 etc (see the Danish text). The suspension went through and for a number of hours Tuvalu, joined with the other small island states and many from the developing world, staged a protest in the conference until they were granted a concession that allowed for open discussions on extending the protocol.

After this event occurred the Kevin Rudd made personal calls to all of the small island states members in order to bully them to stop these tactics. A number of countries complained about what Rudd had to say in these conversations and the calls lead to Australia being awarded 1st prize in the prestigious ‘fossil of the day’ award in the second week (we came third overall in the award).

Would the CPRS have helped?

Another thing Gaurnaut said was that Australia’s position would have been stronger if we had a CPRS. This is total bull. The simple reason is that the biggest problem in these talks was the refusal of the developed world to negotiate on any real changes to their plans for carbon reductions. If Australia had a CPRS we would not only have not had the will to make changes, we legislatively would have been unable to do so. In fact, having a CPRS that is so unmovable as the governments probably would have had a detrimental effect on the negotiations in Copenhagen as Australia would have had no say (although this could be a good thing) as no matter what we could do we wouldn’t have been able to change out plans.

Australia definitely did not have a positive role in these talks. In fact, our role was wholly negative as we blocked aims for change at all points. Whilst you wont hear about it in the news, it did happen. I can only imagine however what we were actually like as this information is only the small part that has been leaked through.


December 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Copenhagen – Part One

So, A little while ago on Facebook I promised an updated blog whilst I was in Copenhagen. Unfortunately with illness and a crazy schedule, so far I haven’t delivered. But, better late than never! As the week comes to a close, the negotiations are wrapped up and the fall out begins, I think it is worth doing some writing.

It’s really hard to know where to start; this last week has been crazy. I think maybe the best point is to look at the COP15 and where it is at/what we can expect from the last day. Unless a miracle happens over the next 12 hours, I think we can safely say that this whole process will be a disaster, no matter what the worlds ‘leaders’ try to make out of it. There are a few things that point to this:

1) Targets: A leaked draft text from last night provided a possible agreement that would limit temperature rise to 3 degrees. Within current texts there is no mention of the 1.5 degrees science says is what we need, nor the 350ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. It is extremely unlikely that either of these numbers will enter the text soon. In fact, with current targets it is predicted that by 2100 the atmosphere would be constituted of 770ppm of carbon dioxide; over double what is considered a safe level by scientists.

2) Loopholes and tricks: There are so many loopholes in the current text regarding the right to emit that will not be overcome today. Key to these is offsets. Whilst offsets sound like a reasonable idea, they are fraught with problems. The biggest of these is that you cannot account for it. For example, in many cases offset credits are being bought for projects that would have occurred without the money anyway, meaning there is no real reduction in emissions. In other cases offsets are being double counted. For example, evidence has shown that many projects that the UK has invested into China have been counted as emissions reductions for both the UK and China. These problems with offsets are not ones of honesty, but are systematic, meaning that any deal with offsets included will be tarnished.

Other loopwholes include the ridiculous land changes provisions that would allow countries such as Australia to fudge the numbers (through claiming land that ‘would have been logged but wasn’t’ as reductions in emissions, when these numbers can basically be inflated), leading to situations where reductions look a lot more than they really are. Sweden, Finland and Canada have also managed to achieve such provisions, allowing logged forests to still come under ‘sustainable forest management’, meaning they will not be considered as lost carbon credits.

There are plenty of loopholes such as these throughout the currents texts and plans and they don’t look like they will be removed any time soon.

3) Finance: Simply put, the issue of finance is still a big one, with no where near the amount of money required being put into the developing. This is one issue that can be fixed, but don’t expect an agreement until it is.

4) Legally Binding or Not? The North/South Divide: Another big contention over the past week has been whether the agreement made here should be legally binding or not. Basically, at the start of the conference there was a big split between the developing world and the developed world, with the developing world (with the island states at the forefront) pushing for a discussion on extending the Kyoto Protocol, with the developed world rejecting this idea. This lead Tuvalu to suspend the conference and stage a protest in the conference center. After this the Danes (who are chairing the conference) gave in to some demands through creating two ‘streams’ of discussion; one on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol; one on creating a new agreement. These two streams continue until today and have not been able to come together in any way.

Even within these streams however, there are differences. For the developing world there is a major split between the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries who want a continuation of Kyoto without any legal cuts for themselves and the rest of the developing world who want a legally binding deal but with legal cuts for the BASIC countries. This split has also not been resolved.

This problem has underlined some key ‘north/south’ divides within the conference, with the developing world constantly charging that they are being left out of the negotiations. There is not doubt that they are being left behind with the developed world participating in behind the door, secret discussions, leaving out the developing world. They have then aimed at using bullying tactics to pressure the smallest developing countries into line (for example, after the Tuvalu protest, Kevin Rudd called all the heads of state of small island states to tell them to stop being obstructive and get into line). Developing countries have also have problems with the Danish chairing of the conference, with claims that the issues/discussions of the developed world are constantly precedence over that of the developing world.

5) NGO participation: Last point is on NGO participation. I will go into this more in another post later, but essentially the democracy deficit has been high here. Most negotiations have occurred behind closed doors and nearly all NGOs have been blocked out over the last couple of days. Whilst this technically may not affect the actual text it is a serious cause for concern as secret negotiations have taken precedence over open and transparent discussion. This means that in the washup we have to be very careful to go over everything to make sure dodgy deals haven’t been done.

As with everything, the  devil will be in the detail as the end comes close in Copenhagen. So, if by the end of today the talks are declared a success, don’t believe it straight away. Look for the details, because at the moment they are disastrous.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fight for Legal Equality for Same-Sex Couples Escalates: Need to Take it Further!

On the 8th of August and the 28th of November thousands of queer activists took to the streets in two ‘National Day’s of Action’ on same-sex marriage. These NDAs are an important step for the queer movement in Australia. Taking to the streets is an important way to take action one we should fully embrace. However, at the same time we must be wary that we don’t create a movement that is too narrowly focused on same-sex marriage.

Heading to the streets in this way is a fantastic thing. Whilst we cannot ignore the great work that has been done on the ground level for queer rights, the queer movement has lacked a nationally co-ordinated mass action effort. These NDAs give us the opportunity to create such a movement and in doing so empower activists, build networks, create alliances and provide a more visible face to an ever growing movement.

However, at the same time, we must be wary that these NDAs don’t narrow the focus of the queer movement solely onto same-sex marriage. Whilst legal equality for same-sex couples is an important step, it is just a step, and one that cannot and should not be separated from the other changes we need in society.

Focusing solely on legal equality limits our ability to challenge key social institutions, such as marriage. Marriage, as a key part of the heteronormative society, is for many an oppressive institution. It defines how relationships should work and then punishes those who don’t fit the norm. We therefore must challenge the way this institution operates and the effect it has on society. Otherwise, we risk a scenario where success is defined through the ability of some to enter heteronormative society/institutions. This will leave many, who don’t fit into these institutions behind.

Leading on from this, a same-sex marriage focus can ignore many other important issues. Whether it is sexual/gender identity based violence, structural poverty or a whole array of other issues, the queer movement should be addressing a whole lot more than legal equality for same sex couples. Queer people are extremely diverse and with this diversity comes a broad range of issues that require attention. If we ignore this diversity, we not only neglect many important issues, but also risk isolating people from the queer movement.

In the long run these issues could be divisive. If we fail to challenge dominant social institutions or tackle other problems, the queer movement risks becoming one that instead of challenging the heteronormative society, accepts it and aims to become part of it. This will not only isolate many people, but will also see a movement that collapses after same-sex marriage is won as organisers and activists believe that queer liberation has been achieved.

As long as legal rights exist, everyone should have access to them. However, that doesn’t mean we should accept them as they are, nor settle for acceptance to them as our only goal. We should fight for legal equality, but we must make sure that such a fight doesn’t let us lose sight of other issues or weaken the queer movement in the long run. The NDAs are giving queer activists a great opportunity to build networks and create co-ordinated actions across the country and I encourage everyone to continue participating in them. But let’s make sure we use these opportunities to strengthen the movement to fully challenge the oppressive nature of the heteronormative society and to create real, long lasting change. Our movement and our society depend on it.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Assimilation is Not the Answer for Queer Liberation

“Part of the parade is to show people we’re not extremists, we‘re real people”? When asked who she considered to be extremists, the response came “Drag queens and butch women”.

A sentiment that you would normally expect from a conservative. However, this didn’t come from the Right, but instead from a member of the queer movement. They’re words spoken by one of the organisers of the Winnipeg Pride Parade, after a debate about making the parade ‘less confronting’ and more ‘family friendly‘. This may be shocking, but in reality this statement is not surprising; its a symptom of the direction many in the queer movement are taking. An increasingly powerful section of the queer movement argues that to achieve better results we need to present queer people as members of society who are no different from anyone else. We need to present ourselves as ’normal’.

By acting ‘normal‘, some believe that we can change the minds of those who find us ’confronting’ and ’strange’. Why would be society want to discriminate against queer people once they realise that ’we’ are just like ‘them’?  These tactics are considered especially useful in debates regarding legislative change, such as same-sex marriage or adoption laws. However, it also goes far beyond that. Many, especially those in the leadership positions, are now beginning to use the idea of normalcy as a way to try to squash fears of the more dramatic changes that are the aim of many in the queer movement. ‘Normalcy’ is being used to create a perception of a queer movement that is designed to fight for acceptance into current society, rather than to change the way society is organised. This is where this tactic has become extremely dangerous.

The politics of “normal” is so dangerous for one reason; it dramatically changes the goals of the queer movement. By adopting a tactic of presenting normalcy the queer movement is moving away from having a position that is critical of the heterodoxy in to one that not only accepts, but for many embraces it as an inevitable part of society. This is creating a scenario where instead of its deconstruction, assimilation into the heteronormative society is becoming the goal of the queer movement.

Problem. This leaves out the ‘drag queens and butch women’ (and everyone else who to falls out of the mould). All this tactic does is let a few more people in the hetero-club (generally those who come closest to fitting the hetero-mould, i.e. ‘normal looking’ bio-male gay men and bio-female lesbian woman) – while still leaving some (trans* and gender-variant folk, polyamourists etc) out.  This is the essential problem of “normal“; – as long as there is “normal“, there will be “abnormal“. Whilst in this scenario some are better off, this tactic sells out not only those who will continue to be excluded, but the queer movement and its principles as a whole.

For full queer liberation to occur we can’t simply claim that the rules about gender, relationships, sex, family etc apply to us as well; we must aim to change them. As long as we aim to be ‘normal’ these changes and the deconstruction of the heteronormativity in society simply will not occur.

If we just aim to be ‘normal’ we are setting our bar too low. We must aim to change our society. Assimilation is not the answer to queer liberation.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment