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Ending 2013. World Action on Environment: EU steps up; Australia steps back …

  • December 30th, 2013
  • Posted by EU Australia

Climate globe ANUGatherings in Warsaw and Colombo kept the international community’s focus  on anxiety about climate change and sustainability, at the year’s end, though the Australians started to march out of step.

Actions on the home front in Australia show clear trends in a ‘non-environmentalist’ direction.

FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE AT WARSAW

The United Nations Climate Change Conference at Warsaw declared at the end of proceedings (11-22.11.13) that it was keeping governments on track towards a new and binding global agreement set to be sealed in 2015.

Taking over from the 2005 Kyoto agreement it would commit the signatories to reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere, to set limits.

A communiqué said several of the 195 countries taking part had agreed to stiffening their regimes, and the range of activities had been extended, for example to concentrate more on reducing emissions caused by deforestation.

They would be meeting again in Peru, and then in France, to wrap up a full and formal accord.

Please see below, extract from a Huffington Post report on the two weeks’ deliberations.

Western powers agreed at Warsaw to better assistance for developing countries to make their contribution. One group including Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland had also paid or pledged $US100-million to an Adaptation Fund that was supporting national projects.

Climate Figueras - UN“We have seen essential projects”, said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (picture).

“But let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events, and the poor and vulnerable are already paying the price.”

AUSTRALIA – WEAKLY REPRESENTED

Australia was weakly represented at the gathering, as a sign of the intentions of its new conservative government to blunt environmental impediments to economic expansion.

Fossil AwardNon-government organisations in attendance, along with delegates on the floor, picked up on the absence of a Minister from Canberra. The world Climate Action Network, on Day One, gave Australia its Fossil of the Day award, to distinguish the country which had done the most to block progress on the climate change negotiations on any given day.

THE OTHER MEETING – CHOGM AT COLOMBO

chogm badgeAustralian Ministers were present in force at a concurrent event, the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) at Colombo, 15-17.11.13.

That body, representing 53 nations, mostly former constituents of the British Commonwealth, or the Empire, declared for “ensuring an integrated and holistic approach to sustainable development.”

The representatives there, undoubtedly conscious of the UN deliberations also going on, said they “acknowledged the importance of the intergovernmental process for elaboration of sustainable development goals that could integrate with the post-2015 development agenda.”

Mostly from developing states, they wanted to promote the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Pledges of cooperation on other concerns included the new international drive for transparent financial transactions, to block money laundering and the financing of terrorism; and more concerted action, against piracy, abuse of cyberspace, subjugation of women, and official corruption.

Significant for the host government, the Heads of Government affirmed strong positions on preservation of human rights, free flow of information and promoting democratic government.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The convening of the gathering in Sri Lanka had been under question in the aftermath of the civil war in that country, and demands for more information about outcomes for the Tamil minority. Objecting to restricted access to information, and restricted access to parts of the country, the Heads of Government of Canada (Stephen Harper) and India (Manmohan Singh) had stayed away. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made his famous side-trip from the conference to Tamil districts in the North, to “meet the people” and receive information and complaints.

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in attendance with the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, chose to go to Colombo and not Warsaw.

That partly reflected a view on climate change and the environment; perhaps also, for a leader of the Monarchist movement in Australia, it was out of preference for an event attended by Prince Charles, representing his mother as Head of the Commonwealth.

MAKING A DEAL

Mr Abbott also had more practical business to do with the Sri Lankan government while he was there.

CHOGM AbbotPresident Rahinda Rajapaksa (picture, talking with Abbott), may have acquired the reputation of a rough-handler of human rights, but the two sides had something to offer each other.

On the aid front, they had lined up the gift to Sri Lanka of two naval patrol boats, for use in preventing would-be “boat people”, mainly Tamils, trying to get to Australia by sea.  The ships were already there, waiting for the hand-over ceremony, while the Australian Ministers, and news media, were in the country.

It was a plank in the “stop the boats” program of the Australian government; its response to Australia’s experience of the current global movement of people; and essential to the Prime Minister in shoring up a right-wing electoral support  base.

AUSTRALIA AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The turn-around in Australia’s stance on the planet could hardly find a sharper contradiction than the consistent drive on climate change of the European Union.

Recent government moves in Australia:

  • Legislative steps to abolish a tax on excess profits from mining, during high demand periods.
  • Moves to abolish the environmental charge on carbon emissions, a “tax on polluters”, prone to be passed on into electricity bills, with publicly-funded compensation for such impacts. A device to establish a carbon price, it was due to be superseded by an emissions trading scheme; and that scheme, in turn, was to be integrated with the ETS in Europe. See EUAustralia Online, EU and Australia agree on climate change action, 15.7.11.
  • A “Direct Action” program is foreshadowed though not yet planned or budgeted for, to take over from the ETS, by promoting energy-saving and use of renewable energy sources; a scheme widely criticised as unlikely to make enough difference to emissions.
  • Proposals now to rescind the 2012 extension of the Great Barrier Reef protection zone to cover a vast area of the Pacific Ocean; reverting to the still-extensive, controlled areas set up in the 1970s – giving much of the “new” territory back to fisheries. See EUAustralia Online, World-scale protection of the seas off Australia, 15.6.12.
  • “One-stop-shop” arrangements with State governments, so only one authority will investigate environmental impacts of development projects; said by government to be reducing “green tape”.

THE GREAT BARRIER REEF ENDANGERED?

  • Development approval, 10.12.13, for a large-scale ports development at Abbot Point in North Queensland adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef; linked to approval of a rail line and new coal mines, for financing by Chinese, Indian and other interests.

Barrier Reef GladstoneThe background environmental concern there is the current besieged and vulnerable state of the Barrier Reef, already faced with natural threats, e.g. predation of coral by the Crown of Thorns starfish, evident damage from outflows of chemicals from the land, and danger of extinction by rising sea temperatures – climate change.

The immediate concern is the dredging and dumping of spoil at sea; 3-million cubic metres, 24 kilometres off-shore, within the Great Barrier Marine Park.

Barrier reef coralcoe.orgTalk of dumping on shore has waned, due to costs and environmental problems that would create on land. A pocket demonstration of sea dumping can be seen not far away at Townsville, where dredging the harbour channel and dumping in two spoil zones within Cleveland Bay (picture, below) , over most of the last Century, produced discolouration of the seawater for very long periods, the death of adjacent coral reefs, atrophy of recreational beaches requiring sand-dumping to replenish, and depletion of local sea life.

Cleveland Bay

The federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, says the volume of mud to be dug up for Abbot Point will be a small fraction of the quantity first proposed; strict water quality controls are to be enforced at the port, with a plan to limit silt discharge into the sea, by funding environmental works in the catchments of local streams; and management and research for reef management will receive enlarged funding.

Opponents argue that all such protections would fail to off-set the large-scale dumping, or count against huge ships getting wrecked on the reef.

Larissa WatersThe Queensland Green Party Senator, Larissa Waters, said the project would “build a coal highway across the precious Barrier reef”. She has pointed to criticism of Australia’s reef management already, by the United Nations agency, UNESCO, which awarded it World Heritage listing. See EUAustralia Online, UNESCO takes Australia to task on the Barrier reef, 3.6.12.

“This is inviting a World Heritage in Danger listing”, she said.

“The Abbott government has sacrificed the climate and the Great Barrier Reef for overseas mining companies with its approval of the world’s largest coal port…”

EUROPEAN UNION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

The European Union flagged a policy of ‘no-diversions’ and ‘urgent action’ on climate change when the delegates met at Warsaw last month.

It has been following, since 2008, a “20-20-20” policy: 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; 20% improvement in energy efficiency; 20% share for renewable in the EU energy mix – all by 2020. See EUAustralia Online, “20-20-20” passes European Parliament, 18.12.08.

It has persisted with carbon trading, problems notwithstanding. See EUAustralia Online, Crash of the carbon market, 19.4.13.

connie_webIts Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, criticised the “slow pace of negotiations” and “too few urgent actions”.

She said:

“We see climate change moving to the centre of the debate on economic policy. Global economic leaders get this.

“World Bank President Jim Yong Kim calls climate change a fundamental threat to economic development. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, has said it is by far the greatest economic challenge of this century. And most recently Angel Gurria, the head of the OECD, said we face a choice ‘between stranded assets and a stranded planet.’”

“If we want to move faster we need to mainstream climate action into the economy, into our key political choices and into our development strategies.

“So how can the international climate negotiations contribute to this? Above all, by being serious about the 2015 deadline…  It is a ‘must have’ because global action is already running late. .. Commitments – that is ACTIONS – is what matters.

“In 2015 no country will have a legitimate excuse for not having done its homework, for not having prepared its pledge and its fair share of the contribution…

“The Warsaw Climate Conference should put us on the right track for closing as quickly as possible the global gap in the pre-2020 level of mitigation ambition; and contribute to an ambitious, legally binding agreement by 2015 that covers the period after 2020 and puts the world on a credible pathway to meet the below two degrees objective.”

BLUE PACIFIC BLUES

Barrier reef orgAs for coral reefs, and warm blue water, Ms Hedegaard had earlier made a declaration about the Pacific Ocean, as a region on the “front line of climate change”.

Preparatory to attending the Pacific Islands Leaders’ Forum in the Marshall Islands last September, she outlined continuing partnership arrangements and aid from Europe, with “climate change at the heart of Europe’s cooperation in  the region.”

Much of that support would come from EU7-billion allocations, for two-year periods since 2010, by the European Commission and several of its member states.

Identifying the threat of rising seas to low-lying islands, she said problems were urgent.

PNG Series Sept - Oct 2004 013“For the Pacific people, weather extremes are not in the distant future. They have become the new normal. Heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising oceans are the new reality of an ever warming world… Scientists have been warning for years that as the planet heads up, we will have to deal with more severe, more changeable, more unpredictable weather…

“The drumbeat of warmest-ever years and extreme weather disasters demonstrates that climate change is happening, that it is happening faster than scientists predicted and that it exacerbates a whole  range of other global problems, of which the Pacific region will bear the full brunt.”

FOR THE RECORD – WARSAW GATHERING, 2013

The following is a summary treatment of the world meeting on climate change,  by Libby Blanchard, a Gates Cambridge Scholar, writing in  the Huffington Post of 27.12.13.

Over the past two weeks, international negotiators from 195 member nations met in Warsaw, Poland, for the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The goal of the meeting was to work towards developing a new legally binding international treaty to curb rising global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to limit the global average temperature increase to 2°C by the end of the century. This future agreement, slated to be signed in 2015 and enter into force in 2020, would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2020. The conference came after the release earlier this autumn of the 5th assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which again states that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and asserts that “human influence on the climate system is clear”.

What was hoped for at the end of COP 19 was a clear road map and timeline to conclude negotiations on a new international climate treaty by the COP meeting in Paris at the end of 2015. Negotiations ended on Saturday with a directive for all nations to establish and submit their emissions reduction contributions to the UNFCCC by early 2015, providing a short window of time for review before the Paris conference. A stalemate over the use of the word ‘commitments’ ran the conference into the weekend, but the consensus for nations to submit ‘contributions’ rather than ‘commitments’ roughly keeps the negotiations on track for the 2015 agreement deadline. In the interim, governments will draft the new climate agreement, which will appear at the next UN climate conference in Peru in 2014.

Despite this progress, the question currently remains as to whether each government’s contributions to reduce GHG emissions will be enough to keep increased average temperatures to 2°C by 2100. According to the UNFCCC website: “The reality is that a looming gap remains between current national and international actions and intentions to reduce emissions and the actual level required to keep average global temperatures rising no more than two degrees above their pre-industrial level.”

Reference

Libby Blanchard, Climate Change: Where Next After Warsaw?, Huffington Post, NY, 27.12.13. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/libby-blanchard/climate-change-where-next_b_4501875.html,(30.12.13).

Brisbane Times (AAP), Brisbane, Abbot Point coal terminal reef dredging project approved, 10.12.13. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/abbot-point-coal-terminal-reef-dredging-project-approved-20131210-2z3v2.html, (30.12.13).

CHOGM 2013, Colombo, 10-17.11.13.Communique, 17.11.13.  http://www.chogm2013.lk/index.php/chogm-2013/final-communique/, (30.12.13).

Connie Hedegaard, European Union Commissioner for Climate Action, Statement at the opening of the high-level segment of the UN climate conference COP 19, Warsaw, 19.11.13. http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/hedegaard/headlines/news/2013-11-19_02_en.htm, (30.12.13).
__ Helping the Pacific fight against climate change, Brussels, 29.8.13. http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/hedegaard/headlines/articles/2013-08-29_02_en.htm,(30.12.13).

Ian McGregor, Australia makes a bad start at Warsaw climate change meeting, The Conversation, Melbourne, 14.11.13. https://theconversation.com/australia-makes-a-bad-start-at-warsaw-climate-change-meeting-20190 ,(30.12.13).

UNFCCC, Bonn, The 19th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP19), Communiqué, 22.11.13.    http://unfccc.int/2860.php, (30.12.13).

Pictures

ANU, CHOGM, UN, Wikipedia

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