Australia Just Keeps Embarrassing Itself When It Comes To Climate Change

ScoMo's latest blunders continue a long Australian tradition.

climate change

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” That quote came from Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, ahead of the COP25 — the 25th United Nations climate change conference — which wrapped up this week.

The answer, apparently, is yes.

The COP25 was the longest summit ever, yet the collective force of the biggest economies on the planet still managed to achieve less than one 16-year-old Swedish girl.

Australia was one of the countries given a shout out for our abysmal performance, but this is far from the first time we’ve been singled out for being a bit shit.

“An Increasingly Regressive Force”

Last week Australia was named the worst performing country in the world on climate change policy in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index.

Look at us finally being recognised on the international stage.

The report states the Coalition government “has continued to worsen performance at both national and international levels.”

It also notes that our 2030 emissions reduction target is “insufficient” — that would be the same target our politicians keep boasting they are on track to meet.

“While the government is not proposing any further targets for renewable energy beyond 2020, it continues to promote the expansion of fossil fuels,” the report says. “Experts note that the new government is an increasingly regressive force in negotiations and has been criticised for its lack of ambition.”

ScoMo dismissed the report by saying it was not credible, which led to him getting embarrassingly called out by one of the report’s co-authors, Germanwatch, an institute devoted to sustainable development.

“Water Lapping At Your Door”

And there are plenty of examples of the absolute disdain with which our politicians treat developing countries who did little to cause the climate crisis, yet are suffering the most from it.

In August, Deputy PM Michael McCormack was caught on tape saying affected island nations would continue to survive by picking fruit in Australia.

The Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the disrespectful barb was a big step backwards for our relationship with Fiji.

But was it worse than Peter Dutton’s tone deaf joke about Pacific islands sinking?

In 2015 he was caught on camera joking with Scott Morrison and then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott about attendees at a roundtable running late, before referencing Port Moresby.

“Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re, you know, about to have water lapping at your door,” he said, which got a laugh from Tones before ScoMo made things awkward by pointing out the massive microphone hanging above them.

“Business As Usual”

Back in 2013, at the COP19, we didn’t even pretend to care about combating the world’s biggest existential threat.

The international climate change negotiations were held in Warsaw that year, and we didn’t even bother sending a government minister.

Instead, we sent a diplomat who went into the negotiations being deliberately difficult. This earned us criticism across the board, including from Europe, China, the Pacific and South Africa.

And we basically did the same thing at the COP25 this year, so not much has changed on that front.

Anyway, this led to the international Climate Action Network naming us the Colossal Fossil for 2013. The ‘award’ is bestowed upon the country that has done the most to block climate change action at the summit.

So great to have some recognition.

To be fair, our ministers were busy — while the summit was taking place, the Coalition government was introducing the carbon tax repeal bill, the first piece of legislation introduced by the new Abbott government.

Presumably no one thought about the optics of staying home to scrap legislation put in place to limit climate change while the rest of the world was trying to agree on new policies that would do exactly that.

Saying Screw You To Our Pacific Neighbours

The 2013 climate change talks commenced against a backdrop of disaster, with the Phillipines being hit by the devastating Typhoon Haiyan days before. More than 6000 people died and 4.1 million people were displaced.

This led to serious talks about compensation payments to developing countries being disproportionately hit by climate change. So what was Australia’s contribution?

According to the scientist who helped put the issue on the agenda, Saleemul Huq, we basically screwed the talks.

“Discussions were going well in a spirit of co-operation, but at the end of the session on loss and damage, Australia put everything agreed into brackets, so the whole debate went to waste,” he said.

A Climate Action Network spokesperson said Australia: “wore T-shirts and gorged on snacks throughout the negotiation. That gives some indication of the manner they are behaving in.”

Being deliberately obstructive at climate talks is one (terrible) thing, but to be deliberately obstructive when talking about aid for disaster zones … that’s an embarrassing new low.

Saying Screw You To Our Pacific Neighbours … Again

But this wasn’t the last time we pissed off our Pacific neighbours. They didn’t hold back in slamming us after the Pacific Islands Forum in August, where climate change was a central focus.

Australia expressed reservations about the Tuvalu Declaration, which called for emissions reduction, limiting coal use and funding for the UN’s Green Climate Fund.

The ensuing arguments bought the Prime Minister of Tonga to tears.

Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga wasn’t having any of our shit, getting into a heated discussion with our PM Scott Morrison.

“I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia’ … I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu,” he told reporters.

We even got slammed by China, with their Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying Australia should be reflecting on itself for acting like a “condescending master“.

Australia “A Disgrace” With Kyoto Targets

The Kyoto Protocol was the first international agreement to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was adopted in 1997 but only came into force in 2005.

Australia likes to brag that we exceeded our Kyoto targets, and we did — by negotiating targets that allowed us to INCREASE our carbon emissions by eight per cent while the rest of the world cut theirs, compared to 1990 levels.

The EU environmental spokesman Peter Jorgensen called our deal “wrong and immoral … a disgrace”.

We also refused to sign the agreement until they added “the Australia clause“, which made sure it included emissions from land clearing.

We’d done a lot of land clearing before 1990, which pushed up the base level that our emissions were being measured against, but by the time Kyoto rolled around our land clearing had dropped off.

Basically, this meant we didn’t really have to change anything and we would still easily hit our target.

To this day, our government still uses this as an example of all the hard work they’re doing on climate change.

Carryover Credits “Not Winning Us Any Friends”

By exceeding our ridiculous Kyoto targets we earned carryover credits, which can theoretically be used to help meet our emissions reduction target under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Australia set a 26 percent emissions reduction target by 2030 (remember, the one the Climate Change Performance Index said was inefficient?) which equates to 695 million tonnes of carbon.

We’ve got about 367 MT in credits, so using these is basically just a tricky way to cut our obligation in half.

But we’re not fooling anyone, and internationally we’ve been called out for it several times. At the recent COP25, about 100 countries were pushing for the use of credits to be banned.

The former president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, was deliciously brutal.

“Australia is on fire due in large part to climate change, and it is beyond me why the Australian government is looking for ways to weaken the Paris agreement so it and others can do less to solve the climate crisis,” he said.

John Connor, the chief executive of the Carbon Markets Institute, said Australia’s decision to use the credits is “not winning them friends”.

There are plenty more examples of our government provoking national outrage for their climate change policies, but honestly I’m too exhausted to go into it because it’s just too depressing.

Besides, obviously our government isn’t listening to us on the issue. Maybe if we become a laughing stock internationally it’ll shame us into actually doing something — and maybe it will help ScoMo make some friends.

Or maybe that’s too much to hope for.