Australia still branded climate ‘dunce’

By Giles Parkinson,

Paris: Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull may have convinced himself that the climate policy he is taking to Paris is ‘ambitious’ and ‘credible’, but he has got a lot of work to do to convince others.

Turnbull has been openly courting ideas to support a zero carbon world – confirming a position from the delegation team revealed by RenewEconomy two weeks ago – but the lack of actual policy detail that supports such claims – and the disconnect between talk and action – is leaving others highly sceptical.

So much so that Australia and Canada were branded ‘climate dunces’ by the influential Le Monde newspaper in a 20-page special published on Saturday, on the eve of the climate talks in Paris.

‘Australie et Canada, cancres climatique’ wrote Le Monde in its headline. (Australia and Canada: Climate dunces – although ‘cancre’ can also mean ‘duffer’or ‘imbecile’).

‘Both big polluters, the two countries have been led for years by climate sceptic leaders,’ the paper noted. And nothing tangible has changed since, despite the fine rhetoric of new leaders Justin Trudeau and Malcolm Turnbull.

Climate-summit-for-web-copy-590x401The mutual admiration between the two fledgling prime ministers was plain to see at CHOGM, with Turnbull even risking offending his Maltese hosts by claiming the croissants in Montreal were far superior.

But their rhetoric carries little truck elsewhere, and this is underlined by the Le Monde article, which noted what others – particularly the ALP have pointed out – that he is still producing the policies of his predecessors that he so derided.

And as The Climate Institute’s Erwin Jackson notes in this report, the Coalition is still attempting to brand the ALP’s climate policy initiatives as ‘a massive hit on the economy.’ That doesn’t fit in with the grand rhetoric elsewhere, nor indeed its own modelling.

Turnbull says no time for heroes

The ALP has put pressure on the Coalition with its call to follow the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation of a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, rather than the government’s 26-28 per cent cut.

It is not entirely clear why Labor took so long to embrace the call by the authority it created (polls may be one answer), but it is a positive step.

Turnbull, however, dismissed the idea as ‘heroic’. Perhaps a better description of ‘heroic’ might be for a leader prepared to take on the climate skeptics within his own party.

This was a key theme of the Le Monde article, which rightly noted that no change in actual policy from Australia could be expected before the next election, yet that won’t happen unless there is a strong outcome in Paris.

Still some explaining to do on policies

Turnbull will only be in Paris for 24 hours, while environment minister Greg Hunt will be here for the first week and foreign minister Julie Bishop for most of the second week.

Australian is no longer seen to be playing a spoiling role at the climate talks now that Abbott is gone, but because Abbott’s policies are still in place, there will be some explaining to do.

The issue of the carbon price is one example. Virtually ever economist, the World Bank, and the French argue that a carbon price is the best way to gain emission reductions.

At a press conference at Le Bourget on Saturday, when France handed over the keys to the centre to the UN, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is leading the French push, reinforced the idea that carbon pricing  is ‘obviously the right way to go’.

He said this view – of the key role of carbon pricing – will be reflected in the initial statements to be made on Monday (Turnbull apparently is going to talk about soil carbon). Turnbull has brought only the Coalition’s ‘fig leaf’ of a climate policy, the term he previously used to describe the Direct Action policy.

Why Turnbull could do a Kevin Rudd

There are other critical issues too. Australia, for reasons ill-explained, has yet to ratify the second period of the Kyoto Protocol. This is a dying treaty that will expire in 2020, and be replaced by whatever is agreed in Paris, but ratification is still seen as important by the developed world.

Kevin Rudd got an outstanding ovation in Bali when he announced the delayed ratification of the first period of the Kyoto Protocol soon after his election. Turnbull could do the same thing, and given that the Coalition is now boasting it will easily meet its Kyoto target, there seems to be no reason why it shouldn’t.

At the Paris climate talks, there is no place to hide 

The layout of the Paris climate conference, located in the Le Bourget airport precinct north of Paris, gives a fairly good indication of how the French are approaching these talks.

No longer are the delegation offices separated from the rest of the event and entry to those areas barred to media and NGO’s. Indeed, the delegation offices are in the heart of the country pavilions. There is even a major press conference room in the middle of the delegation offices.

Australia’s is the first office to be seen in the entry of one of the first big halls. Its office is located next to The Philippines and Belgian delegations, and adjacent to the massive African pavilions and the Benin, Panama and Tunisian delegations. And, as usual, Australia’s lodgings if for function only.

kangaroo-cop-300x225There is no Australian pavilion promoting and highlighting their climate and clean energy policies, unlike many other countries including Indonesia, Korea, the Carribean nations, Africa, the US, China, India and Europe. But at least there were some pink kangaroos (pictured above).

Indeed, it is interesting that French has chosen to put the African pavilions – by far the biggest at COP21 – at the heart of the massive halls. The African countries, France recognises, are one of the keys to reaching agreement on a pathway to a 2C world, or even a 1.5 world if the developing countries get their wish.

Paris still in state of alert

Unfortunately, that sense of involvement has not been repeated in outside events, thanks to the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris just two weeks ago.

In Paris the effects of those attacks attacks are still being felt. As part of the state of emergency that will run for another few months, a planned march of more than 200,000 people has been ruled out by authorities, as have other demonstrations.

In their place, several events have underlined the symbolism. On Sunday, several hundred pairs of shoes – including one pair from the Pope – were placed at the Place de la Republique, near the worst attacks, as a signal of support from those who could not march.

Others planned to link arms between Place de la Nation and Republique, passing before the Bataclan concert hall, where so many people died.

COP21-EVAs a sign of the intense security, the main arterial roads between the two airports and Paris were closed for the duration of the visits of more than 150 country leaders. On the radio, it was announced that all flammable liquids (methylated spirits, for instance) would be banned for sale in supermarkets.

There was free public transport, at least until Monday while around 150 country leaders are in town to give their 2.5 minute speeches and presumably broker some deals in bilateral and multi lateral meetings, but Parisians were advised not to use it. It might have been easier to declare a public holiday. The French like those.

Giles Parkinson is in Paris for COP21 and will be filing daily. Greg Foyster’s cartoons can be found at





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