It seems Australia is not doing enough to address climate change – and the world is watching closely to see what its next step will be.
The Chinese bureaucrat pushed the point.
Was, he wondered, Australia expecting the world to do more to address climate change than it was prepared to do itself?
Back home, the Abbott government was furiously arguing that there was nothing unusual about this – that the probe was a standard part of the laborious theatre of international climate negotiations.
But the Chinese representative pointed out Australia was on the end of more questions than any other country. They came not just from China, but also the US, Brazil and South Africa.
“I think he’s right. We got some 36 questions on notice, so there is substantial interest in Australia’s climate change policies,” Peter Woolcott, Australia’s environment ambassador, later told the meeting.
“Particularly since the change of government, and the change in our approach to the Direct Action scheme to address climate change challenges in Australia.”
While some in Australia make the case that the country is largely irrelevant as a tiny contributor to global emissions – about 1 per cent of the total – the meeting in Bonn, Germany earlier this month suggested the international community thinks otherwise.
To many observers it was clear that other countries are closely watching Australia’s climate change debate as work continues on a global treaty due to be signed in Paris late this year.
Australia is the 13th biggest emitter in the world. While China and the US are the main players, campaigners make the point that if countries of Australia’s size and emissions do nothing, the problem won’t be solved. Its emissions per head are among the world’s worst.
It is through this prism that Australia is viewed in the United Nations climate talks. What it says, and does, matters.
Ian Fry, an Australian who represents the tiny island nation of Tuvalu at the talks, says: “The general question I get from others in the negotiations is, ‘Does the Australian government really believe in climate change, does Australia’s leader really believe in climate change?’ ”
In response, he tells them: “I have my doubts.”
Asked if this is an understatement, he laughs, then adds: “I think people in foreign affairs are struggling with the government’s position on climate change.
“There are clearly people representing Australia who do believe in climate change, but they struggle to defend the indefensible.”
Don Henry, who is the former head of the Australian Conservation Foundation and now works closely with Al Gore, says before arriving in Bonn he was unsure how much focus there really was on Australia’s position.
He left convinced it was in the international spotlight. “And it’s not just small countries, like the island states, that are watching closely,” he says. “It’s our biggest trading partners. It’s countries like the US and China.”
Earlier this month a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network found for the first time in 40 years the growth in clean energy has seen emissions from electricity stop rising while economic growth continued. Australia bucked the trend last year, its electricity-sector emissions increasing.
It followed the Abbott government making good on its pre-election commitment to abolish the carbon price, making Australia the first country to get rid of this type of scheme.
Press link for more: Tom Arup & Adam Morton | smh.com.au