It is official: Australia’s new government denies global warming. The Coalition Government will not send its environment minister to the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which will kick off in Warsaw, Poland from 11-22 November 2013.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt will stay at home to expedite the processes involved in repealing the carbon tax, a top election promise made by his boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
However, a representative on his behalf has been dispatched to take part in the annual event. Hunt will be busy repealing the carbon tax while the conference is underway. The carbon tax was passed by the Australian legislature in 2011 under former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Since Abbott won the federal election in September this year, scrapping the carbon tax has topped his priority agenda.
Australia will be represented by Australia’s Climate Change Ambassador Justin Lee from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will also not attend.
Climate observers said this will send the wrong signal that Australia is walking away from its commitment on climate action and it may set a precedent for other countries to backslide.
Climate skeptics and right-wingers are already cheering on Australia’s unprecedented example. Recently, former PM John Howard also scoffed at “alarmists” in a climate skeptics’ gathering held in London and admitted he is “unconvinced” of an impending “global warming catastrophe.”
The COP19 expects to bring together around 40,000 attendees from government, academia, business and advocacy groups to advance international agreements that aim to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.
In the past, a government minister represented Australia to the UNFCCC. Ian Campbell headed the delegation under John Howard’s first government in 1997. Labor Climate Change Ministers Penny Wong and Greg Combet, respectively, attended the conference from 2007, although in 2012, the Gillard government’s parliamentary secretary on climate change Mark Dreyfus attended the conference on behalf of Combet.
Oppositions and environmental groups are wary of the bad signal Australia will be sending to the summit. Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler told The Australian, “Other countries are going to read into it at best with confusion and at worst that the Abbott government is walking away from global action on climate change. ”
Greens MP Adam Bandt also said it was “understandable” that Minister Hunt was “embarrassed” by his government’s decision to scrap the carbon tax, but it was no excuse to skip the global summit. While no major decisions will be made at Warsaw, the meeting will build momentum in the lead-up to major negotiations for a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gases in Paris in 2015.
Businesses support repeal of carbon tax
PHP Billiton, among other businesses under the Australian Business Council, supports the dumping of carbon tax. While backing the Federal Government’s plan, the mining giant, however, urged scrapping the price of carbon should be done as soon as possible. It warned of a possible complications if it is not done by mid-2014. The mining firm said it still believes in having a price on carbon, but any policy should be trade friendly and revenue neutral.
BHP Billiton noted that repealing the carbon tax will get rid of the current problem of Australian firms paying a higher cost on pollution than their international competitors. The company shares concerns already expressed by others businesses about the uncertainty that will be created should the legislation not pass by mid-next year.
Climate action nationwide rally
Amid plans to scrap the carbon tax, a climate action is brewing nationwide. Various environmental groups are set to mobilise rallies in every major city nationwide on November 17. It is a collaboration of GetUp, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Environment Victoria, Fire Brigade Employees Union, Greenpeace, 350.org, Oxfam Australia and many other groups. ACF said they intend to make this event as big as they can.
The ACF wants to keep Australia’s carbon tax. It said that while the tide of history is flowing towards pricing pollution, Australia is turning back the clock. Along with the climate action rally, the Foundation also supports an online petition to the prime minister, environment minister, and environment decision makers from all parties.
GetUp who is spearheading the climate action rally said 2011 was a turning point for Australia. Climate scientists warned it was the beginning of the critical decade for climate change and thus required stronger action to avoid the catastrophic effects of rising emissions. Australians responded to this warming by enacting the carbon tax.
However, Australia faces another turning point this year which is poised to “go backwards on climate action at a time when the government’s own independent climate policy advisory body has warned the nation’s current emissions reductions targets are “inadequate” and what it needs is stronger and more ambitious targets.”