U.N. climate talks: Four countries behaving badly
There have been more disappointments than encouraging signs at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, which have just passed the halfway mark. They’re intended to lay the groundwork for a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but it’s not going well so far. Rich countries are not outlining how they will fund the planned $100-billion-a-year Green Climate Fund. Discussions involving agriculture have been taken off the table, even though farming reforms could substantially reduce global carbon emissions. And nobody can agree on how best to protect carbon-soaking forests.
But of the 190 countries that have sent delegates to Warsaw, four in particular have been the target of international anger over recent announcements, acts of obstructionism, and failure to commit to protect the world from global warming.
Japan is the fifth biggest greenhouse gas polluter, but it had committed to reducing its carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Then Fukushima melted down and the country switched from a nuclear-powered diet to a fossil-fueled one. Now the country’s leaders are pointing to that tragedy as they walk away from their climate-change goals. Japan’s new goal? Emissions in 2020 that are 3.5 percent below 2005 levels. Which is even worse than it sounds. That means a 3.1 percent emissions increase from 1990 to 2020.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said the previous goal, which had been set by a government that is now in opposition, “was totally unfounded and wasn’t feasible.”
Poland is hosting this round of climate negotiations in its capital, but just because it’s welcomed a huge congregation of climate negotiators to a football stadium doesn’t mean the country is ready to begin acting like a responsible global citizen.
Poland expects to rely on climate-changing coal — the worst of the fossil fuels — for most of its electricity for the next 50 years. The country may soon spend billions of dollars doubling the size of one of its biggest coal-fired plants, and new coal plants are planned. As if that weren’t bad enough, the country is also hosting a major international coal summit this week. Many climate activists feel the timing of that summit is a deliberate affront to everything that the climate negotiators are working toward.
“Coal is still the basic source of energy in many countries in the world,” Polish official Beata Jaczewska told Reuters when asked about the World Coal Association meetings being held today and tomorrow. “A transition period is needed.”
Australia has morphed quickly from a global leader in the fight against climate change to an international pariah. Climate-denying Prime Minister Tony Abbott has jubilantly pursued two agendas related to global warming since taking office two months ago: ending climate action and undermining research and development. (Isn’t it interesting how climate deniers so often hate science?) Abbott has moved to axe the country’s carbon tax. He is cutting $409 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. He intends to dismantle a program designed to invest $9.4 billion in clean energy. And he is hacking away at the staff of the country’s preeminent research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
For the first time since 1997, Australia is not being represented at international climate talks by any federal ministers. Abbott has decided that his ministers are all needed back home to help convince a hostile senate to repeal the country’s carbon tax. Bureaucrats make up the country’s entire climate delegation, and those bureaucrats have not arrived bearing any gifts.
There is widespread confusion over what Australia’s delegation actually wants, with routine briefings for journalists and diplomats canceled. Abbott has ruled out making any new commitments to fight global warming through these talks. He bizarrely insists the country will somehow meet its longstanding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas pollution 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 — “We have made one commitment and one commitment only, which is to reduce our emissions by 5 percent,” he said — but he continues to dismantle efforts to curb emissions.
Scientists, the bane of spinmeisters like Abbott, are calling bullshit. Climate Action Tracker, which tracks and analyzes countries’ climate pledges, is projecting a 12 percent rise in Australia’s emissions by 2020 under Abbott’s policies.
Canada and Australia have a lot in common — they are both Western powers rich in mineral resources that they’re only too happy to plunder. And while much of the world jeers the climate developments down under, Canada, which last year abandoned its own efforts to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, has taken the unusual step of cheering them.
“Canada applauds the decision by prime minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal Australia’s carbon tax,” Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said in a statement. “The Australian prime minister’s decision will be noticed around the world and sends an important message.”
And the love affair between the countries is not just idle pillow talk. During a recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, Australia and Canada joined forces and refused to contribute any funds to a program that would help small and poor countries cope with climate change.
Meanwhile, more than 100 protests were held in Canada over the weekend by those who want more action on climate change. And an estimated 60,000 protestors fighting for the same cause turned out in Australian streets. There seems to be a severe disconnect here.