Australian PM Tony Abbott Travels The World To Drum Up Anti-Climate Action Coalition


Nearly a decade ago U.S. President George W. Bush, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, and then-Australian prime minister John Howard joined forces in creating a climate-denial triumvirate to fight global efforts to combat climate change and undermine the Kyoto Protocol. A decade later scientists have become even more certain of human-caused climate change, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, and impacts ranging from extreme storms to desperate drought have gotten worse. That isn’t stopping Australian prime minister Tony Abbott from using his current trip abroad to try and build support for a similar coalition to thwart even the possibility of renewed international efforts.

Canadian PM Harper is still on board, having permitted Canada to miss any climate goals and instead pursuing rampant fossil fuel development. However, President Obama has stayed far from these two other world leaders when it comes to climate policy. He is pursuing a number of avenues to reduce the United States’ emissions with his National Climate Plan, including the recent announcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to substantially reduce emissions from power plants.

On Monday, Abbott visited with Harper in Ottawa for a full day with his close friend and ally. According to The Age, a Melbourne-based newspaper, Abbott “flagged intentions to build a new center-right alliance led by Canada, Britain and Australia along with India and New Zealand,” in an effort to “dismantle global moves to introduce carbon pricing, and undermine a push by U.S. President Barack Obama to push the case for action through forums such as the G20.”

On Tuesday, Abbott arrived in the U.S. where he will be meeting with President Obama later this week. Traveling with a high-powered business delegation, Abbott will have visual imagery to accompany his mental determination to place perceived economic gains above any efforts on mitigating climate change even as his country suffers through its two hottest years on record. With many forecasters predicting a strong El Niño this year, it is likely that Australia is in for another extended hot and dry spell.

When he comes to D.C., Abbot won’t be meeting with either Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, or Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank. He canceled his meetings with these two leaders of major financial institutions, which would seem to complicate his business-for-all agenda, but makes sense when viewed in light of his climate-action-for-none agenda. Recently Kim called on nations to divest from fossil fuels and for governments to put a price on carbon either through taxes or market-based instruments. This could be awkward for Abbott, who has made repealing Australia’s GHG cap-and-trade scheme a major platform of his administration. A few years ago, Kim would likely have been name dropping Australia as a leader on climate action, but since Abbott has taken the helm to country has spiraled into a pattern of obstructive climate efforts.

As Australia prepares to host the IMF and World Bank as part of the G20, Abbott said that reports of his snuffing the leaders of these institutions have been exaggerated. He has also said that the focus of the November G20 meeting should not be on climate change.

Lagarde was in Canada at the same time as Abbott to address an international economic conference in Montreal. She told the attendees that fossil fuel rich countries like Canada and Australia need to be proactive in protecting the environment and mitigating emissions and not simply stalling until global action is finally able to cohere around them. She also said that a mechanism to reflect the true cost of emissions and to encourage less consumption is necessary.

In an indirect response to these statements, Harper said on Monday that “it’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change, but we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth, not destroy jobs and growth. Frankly, every single country in the world feels the same way.”

Harper and Abbott may be cut from the same cloth: partially denying, partially ignoring climate change. But their two countries are made up of different geographies that will experience climate impacts differently. While they are both rich in fossil fuel deposits such as oil and coal, which in large part drives their determination to stay true to fossil fuels, Canada is a northern country that won’t experience the immediate worst short-term impacts of climate change. Australia on the other hand, is already being hit by a changing climate that is making their hot and dry continent that much more so.

John Connor, CEO The Climate Institute in Australia, called the Obama administration’s proposed carbon regulations on power plant emissions last week “a hugely important move.” In a statement he went on to say “meanwhile Australia could become the first country in the world to dismantle a carbon market.”  In Canada, Abbott said that “there is no sign — no sign — that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted. If anything trading schemes are being discarded, not adopted.’’

China has launched six regional emissions trading schemes this year and has hinted at the adoption of a national cap in the next decade. Much of Europe has a carbon cap, trading scheme, or both. In the U.S., the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has been underway for some time and California recently kicked off its cap-and-trade system. The proposed carbon rule could encourage other states to adopt a trading system to lower their emissions.

That didn’t stop Abbott from saying “there is no emissions trading scheme in the United States,” last week.