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

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