No more Copenhagen to hide behind

Monday, 21 December 2009 

KERRY O’BRIEN: Is it true that in principle – forget whether it’s Kevin Rudd’s ETS scheme or your ETS scheme or somebody else’s – but in principle do you support as the best way of tackling climate change, a cap and trade scheme that puts a price on carbon?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, we will see what comes out of Copenhagen. So much does – you know, for example, some of the strongest advocates previously for a global emissions trading scheme are saying it’s not going to work, we need to go with a carbon tax. So, let’s see what comes out of Copenhagen.

The 7.30 Report 17 December 2009

Much more to do in 2010. Foundations now laid in the Copenhagen climate change Accord. We need national & global action for our kids. KRudd

Twitter 20 December 2009

The perceived failure of Copenhagen is a problem for both sides of the political class.

For the Liberals, it takes away the excuse of waiting for the world to make a decision they cannot – choosing between standing up for core party values and being in line with the global political agenda. Abbott’s highly unconvincing attempt to be both, greenest of green while arguing climate change is not worth a Great Big Tax, is likely to be even more difficult after Copenhagen as the pressure increases from some to abandon climate change action altogether. For the pro-action groups in the party it gives an invitation to take on the old guard’s agenda directly rather than just claiming to want to keep in line with the rest of the world.

However, the more immediate problem is for the government and it is probably why Rudd is keen to argue that there is an international momentum where there is not. This first Labor government without any relations with unions to underpin its domestic program, has looked overseas to the international agenda of climate change to give it a sense of purpose that it otherwise does not have. In this sense, the political problem for Rudd now is not that he has raced ahead of the international agenda by introducing an ETS, but that he has relied on the international agenda too much.

As a political tactic against the opposition, Rudd’s taking of a ‘middle road’ on climate change looks sensible as it has forced the Coalition, caught up in a furious internal battle over ‘values’, to fall off the sceptic cliff from which its new leader is now desperate to scramble back.

The trouble is that beating the Coalition is not the only game in town. There is the more fundamental question of what the government itself stands for, and its credibility. For a government with an insecure social base, this is no more an easy question than it was for the last one and, like the last one, it has had to look overseas to find it.

However, unlike the War on Terror, Copenhagen showed that this time, there is no clear political direction to this international agenda. Whereas the War on Terror made a virtue of the US’s military strength, the climate change agenda makes a problem of the US’s economic dominance and so far harder for the US to assert leadership over. Obama’s behaviour at Copenhagen sums up what seems to be the US’s modus operandi at the moment, fly in and look to be in control, but don’t hang around long enough to show that it is not.

In essence Rudd had been looking for overseas governments to provide a direction that it has avoided sticking its neck out trying to generate at home. When it realised, too late, that its machinations had meant that it had no ETS to take to Copenhagen, it carried on as though it was no problem, when in fact politically it was. It highlighted to the world’s the lack of weight the government had to impose its will at home and push an agenda through. The irony was that when it arrived in Copenhagen, it found an international community, especially the most powerful one in it, with precisely the same problem.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 21 December 2009.

Filed under International relations

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10 responses to “No more Copenhagen to hide behind”

  1. Michael on 21st December 2009 3:04 pm

    Beijing cleaned the air for the Olympics right on cue. New York’s skies were clear enough to see the night-time stars that hadn’t been seen in decades after all flights were grounded for a week after the Twin Towers were leveled.

    In short, local environments can display very swiftly local efforts/events that change emitting ‘business as usual’.

    The Coalition maintains that an Australian ETS in operation will contribute virtually nothing to reducing planet-wide dirty air. Quite right. So, let’s get selfish and clean up our own front yard of carbon-fuels generated crap in our air.

    That’s definitely in the national interest, a Federal government doing something for Australians country-wide. And by displaying positive results here for the world to observe from anywhere, Australia will lead the planet in demonstrating what the ‘real world’ results of reducing carbon pollution actually look like.

    More effective than taking ETS legislation to Copenhagen, this will be displaying ETS results to anyone anywhere hesitating over what the benefits of rising to the challenges of countering climate change are.

    That’s why the public should support a national government’s moves to reduce carbon fuel’s-generated pollution of our environment. Because it is good for us. And when citizens around the world can see how good it is for us, they’ll demand the same for themselves.

    Kevin Rudd wants Australia to be a model for the world in dealing with climate change, a model that demonstrably displays improvement in the quality of life for Australians. What Australian wouldn’t want that? For us, and for generations to come?

  2. Ricc on 21st December 2009 3:21 pm

    for a nation of deniers and skeptics (as Abbott would believe) Australians seem very keen to put up PV and solar hot water systems.

    Early in Howard’s term, a $550m blowout would have been a massive failure. Now very ho-hum, as long as people get their PV.

  3. Ricc on 21st December 2009 3:23 pm

    So PipingShrike, what is the international agenda? You’ve mentioned before that unlike in Australia, where there are no great “Australian Settlement” interests to represent, internationally there are still interests. Presumably the USA does have to ‘manage’ the rise of India and China as best it can (very limited!)

  4. The Piping Shrike on 21st December 2009 6:19 pm

    I think there are two things going on.

    Firstly governments that might be struggling to look good at home are using climate change to take the moral high ground on the international stage, so UK’s Brown and France’s Sarkozy comes to mind here.

    Secondly there is some jostling between various blocs; Europe has been pushing this agenda to undermine the US’s influence on the War on Terror, for example, and to make China jump through hoops. It was interesting to see Obama try and turn it around in Copenhagen by making the deal about the two biggest polluters and lock Europe out in return.

  5. Nick on 22nd December 2009 1:19 am

    One interesting thing coming out of Copenhagen is the, almost unanimous, view that there is anthropogenic global warming and that the world should be doing something about it. This poses a large problem for the Coalition.

  6. The Piping Shrike on 22nd December 2009 9:14 am

    I agree. But also for Labor. The MSM have got this totally arse up.

  7. Doug on 22nd December 2009 9:23 am

    The politics of this are interesting.

    Abbott, if I understand him correctly, is going to match the Government’s targets without an ETS or a carbon tax. So the argument about climate change at that level is over. So where does that leave the denialists within the coalition?

    The agenda overseas is now moving and moving in ways that may yet force Rudd to “move to the left” to respond effectively to these developments.

    It seems unlikely that the coal lobby will end up with a better deal than they had on offer after Turnbull’s negotiations with Rudd. The law of unexpected consequences suggests that might be a possibility.

  8. Avalon Dave on 23rd December 2009 2:54 pm

    Very Merry Xmas to the Piping Shrike !!

    Thanks for all the great articles again this year. The best on the Australian Fed political scene that there are.

    And merry xmas to all the Piping Shrike’s fans as well.

  9. Ricc on 23rd December 2009 5:22 pm

    Hear hear!

    I wonder if there is a special Xmas/year in review post underway, TPS?

  10. The Piping Shrike on 23rd December 2009 5:58 pm

    Thinking about it …

Comments are closed.