FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fossils of the Day: Saudi Arabia, Australia and Spoilers at COP21

Since the 1990s, Australia has underscored itself as an alternative to the climate change junta, as its officials often seem to suggest it is, focusing instead on the life of immediate gain. It is a code of living with undeniable, selfish benefits, a sort of fossil-fuel Objectivism, as Ayn Rand would have termed it. Be infuriatingly, dangerously selfish; you know you want to. Forget the others; you have to.

This was in evidence with the Kyoto Protocol, which Canberra stubbornly refused to go along with any vaguely communitarian notion about environment and matters of climate disruption. Despite being signed in April 1998, the protocol was only ratified on Dec 12 2007. Even then, it was noted that the document “does not specify the mechanism by which Parties to the Protocol must meet their emission target, thus providing an Annex I country such as Australia reasonable amount of discretion as to the policies and measures it implements domestically to meet its target.”

The Umbrella Group of industrialised states, as it came to be known, has been stalking the climate change scene for some time, stalling and restricting various measures in pursuit of a decarbonized economy. The group, not always harmoniously, comprises Japan, US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand. Given that exports in oil, gas and coal amounts stemming from the group are only growing, some forces of attraction were bound to be felt.

It is one that has proven fractious within its own limits, a front that has been fraying since 2009 when the White House decided to adopt a greener side in a post-Bush world. Ditto a post-Harper Canada. Disagreements have arisen over the issue of compliance, as they always tend to.

The spoiling agents in the group have varied in terms of force and effect. Japan, while not possessing the fossil fuel deposits in the group, has importing ties to three which do. It has been one of the strongest voices to push back G7 commitments on climate change targets.

Australia, however, as it has done in previous rounds, has shown itself to be the problematic child in the climate change classroom, despite dutifully scribbling in its note book a target well below 2°C in terms of temperature rises. In many instances, its delegates give the impression of not wanting to be there. Failing students, of course, rarely do.

In an assessment by Germanwatch and the Climate Action Network Europe, released at the Paris climate summit, Australia joined Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan at the bottom of a list of 58 nations in its ranking on the Climate Change Performance Index.

The report conducts a range of measures, focusing on actual per capital emissions, emission trends, the use of renewable energy, energy intensity in the economy, and an overall assessment of climate policies. Australia was bound to get a good serving on this, given its abolition of the carbon emissions scheme, scaling down of the renewable energy target (RET) in June 2015 and such ineffective measures as the Emission Reduction Fund.

It provides a parallel universe to that created by the Turnbull government, which has attempted to sneak in, and out, without much consequence. “This report,” explained Kelly O’Shannassy of the Australian Conservation Foundation, “cuts through the government’s spin to show we are a climate change laggard.”

Admittedly, many of the policies constitute a burdensome inheritance for Turnbull, one fashioned by that most ardent of climate sceptics, Tony Abbott. And Foreign Minister Julie Bishop did surprise some by signing up to a New Zealand-led declaration supporting international carbon markets.

Overall, Canberra’s anti-environment resume won the country the award of fossil of the day, an anti-gong not alien to its diplomats. Bishop, before a forum hosted by Indonesia titled “Pathways to a Sustainable Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Economy” embraced the long held plunderer’s line that fossil fuels remained good. “Traditional energy sources, fossil fuels like coal, will remain a significant part of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future.”

Such language retains its euphemistic flavour, but becomes exceedingly crude as an apologia for white knight antics. Yes, mining, exporting and burning fossil fuels will be good for the poor, even as the process lines the deep pockets of mining companies. “Barring some technological breakthrough fossil fuels will remain critical to promoting prosperity, growing economies and alleviating hunger for years to come.”

This standing flies well in the face of such documents as the Declaration to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground, one arrived at by a group of 163 non-governmental organisations led by environment groups and indigenous leaders from 28 countries.

Australia’s lead negotiator at Paris, Peter Woolcott, fears “the weakening of several provisions.” Motivating countries to combat targets was one thing; making them binding quite another. Keep such goals, and the means to achieve them, flexible.

Australia is by no means the only state to be the laggard at the show. Some members of the G77 – Malaysia, Cuba and Venezuela – have made less than subtle efforts to stifle the procedural elements of the summit. On Monday, the delegates wished for the text to be worked on through a big screen. Endorsing such a measure would have kept the negotiators at work for years.

Other threats have also manifested, not least of all Saudi Arabia, who persists in cultivating a Janus-sensibility to environmental reform. Therein lies a formidably aggressive opponent, one who, in advance of COP21 intentionally manipulated the oil price to produce a surge in demand.

On Friday, the OPEC Minister meeting in Vienna, egged on by Riyadh, concluded that there would be no reduction in current levels of oil production. In the words of Saudi Oil Minister, Ali Al-Naimi, uttered in May, ending the use of fossil fuels was something that had to be put “in the back of our heads for a while.”

There are reasons to assume that much of COP21 will be the customary dross one has come to expect from climate change fests. Some momentum, centred around the so-called “high energy coalition” comprising the EU, the US and almost 80 African and island states, has gathered. But the state parties seem less relevant to this show than the giant, technology coalitions and energy deals that are being done on the side. Clean energy initiatives have been, and will take place irrespective of whether states wish to take up a seat on the train of reform.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail