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December 17th 2009 print

Tim Wilson

COP15: Day 10

Government indifference to serious emissions reduction is driven by political greed because they don’t want to be exposed to the voter policy backlash from actually cutting emissions.


The great Australian post-pubescent European backpacking self discovery tour is about to get a lot more expensive if a tax proposal is adopted to break one of the many Copenhagen deadlocks.

The deadlock-busting proposal is to tax international travel and shipping to be tipped into a fund for developing countries to adapt to a changing climate which might bring many developing countries closer to the main negotiating proposals.

At this point the proposal appears to have taken the interest of Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, whose arrival last night was the chatter of the conference, at least for a couple of minutes, but even then no one was saying anything very nice.

Reportedly, the chief negotiator for the G77 developing country bloc plus China took a leaf out of Bob Brown’s hymn book attacking Rudd because on climate change “the message Kevin Rudd is giving to his people, his citizens, is a fabrication, it’s fiction … (and) all that Australia has done so far is simply not good enough”.

Tough words, and they’re deliberate for two reasons.

First, it is a political/media strategy to get negative publicity for developed country leaders in their domestic press in the hope that it will make them blink during the current Mexican standoff over whose Copenhagen proposals will win the day. Developing countries also know their harsh quotes will, for example, get a better run in Australian media, than Kevin Rudd’s will in Chinese media.

Second, China knows that developed country governments aren’t nearly as committed to reducing carbon emissions as they claim when they call climate change the greatest moral challenge of our time.

Earlier this year I read a report from the Victorian State government about its climate change efforts and by the end was convinced there were more emissions from producing the report than those reduced by the policies articulated between its covers.

And government indifference to serious emissions reduction is driven by political greed because they don’t want to be exposed to the voter policy backlash from actually cutting emissions.

If you, yes YOU, genuinely care about climate change you wouldn’t be reading my  posts because you wouldn’t be prepared to emit the carbon caused by electricity generation.

Cutting emissions requires a radical reapproach to the way we live our lives, not just the low hanging fruit of installing the occasional pink batt and encouraging consumers to buy GreenPower.

But the actual indifference of developed country taxpayers may be why the developing country tax proposal may sneak through because the cost will principally fall onto rich people in developed countries because they’re both the source of outbound tourists and also trade most in goods and services.

Australia will carry a particularly large part of the cost because of the necessity to fly and ship goods and services because of our geographic isolation. And the extra cost on international travel will largely hit people who travel overseas regularly including wealthy people, business travellers and Kevin Rudd. Unpopularly though it will also hit the once-in-a-lifetime Disneyland trip for the average Aussie battler family.

Apart from the developing country tax proposal there has only been one other area of significant negotiating progress on deforestation issues.

In a shout out to Australia’s Climate Change Ambassador, Louise Hand, the current negotiating position of Australia is against the conversion of forests for agriculture use to sequester carbon and provide sustainable industries for rural developing country farming communities.

I disagree with this policy since if you can convert forest land into both a carbon stock and provide sustainable economic development you should, but apparently it’s not a view shared by others as reflected in deforestation negotiating text like the NGOs who have now been rationed out of attendance.

Since attendance rationing for NGOs commenced yesterday the proportion of adults with tidy haircuts and designer clothing has risen against the number of large groups of ‘yoofs’ wearing the same slogan-laden t-shirts. 

But that doesn’t mean all the theatrics have been lost.

In a corridor yesterday a woman was handing out chocolate coated ginger ‘carbon cake’ to people from developed countries who’d already emitted enough carbon and are going to be allowed to emit more under a Copenhagen agreement.

Tomorrow the real clamp down occurs and delegates need a special silver pass to get anywhere near the conference centre. But with only one thousand issued my only chance of getting one is to buy one off ebay.

But instead of coming from the inside of the Bella Conference Centre I’ll probably be blogging from inside a pub surrounded by other kicked out observers who’ll be watching proceedings while playing drinking games and taking a shot every time the Chinese blame developed countries for risking failure, G77 countries threatening a walkout and America calling for China to do more.

It’s a good thing the sun sets early because with a drinking game like that beer-o-clock is going to need to come around earlier rather later.

Tim Wilson is Director of the Climate and Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs and is blogging from Copenhagen at www.sustainabledev.org

See Tim Wilson’s previous reports:

COP15: Opening Ceremony

COP15: Day 2

COP15: Day 3

COP15: Day 4

COP15: Day 5

COP15: Day 6

COP15: Day 7

COP15: Day 8

COP15: Day 9