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Issue #1520      28 September 2011

The environment

Australia takes lead to destroy planet

The personal mud-slinging that masquerades as debate around the carbon tax legislation is proving to be a very handy diversion for Prime Minister Gillard from other aspects of the government’s climate change policy. In the international arena, the Labor government is playing a treacherous role with a new initiative to kill the Kyoto Protocol and transfer much of the responsibility for addressing climate change onto the developing nations. (“developing” is the UN’s terminology.) The Kyoto Protocol (KP) is based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” of developed and developing nations, in recognition that the developed countries are principally responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the KP recognise that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries. It acknowledges that their share of global emissions will initially grow to meet social and development needs. In accordance with this principle, developed countries negotiated legally binding commitments to reduce emissions by agreed amounts by the end of 2012 – the first period of emission reductions under the KP. They should have finalised a second period of commitments to commence in 2013 at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

Developing nations were not subjected to legally binding targets, but did make commitments to take other measures conditional on receipt of the financial and technological assistance from developed countries. Needless to say the developed nations did not deliver. In contravention of the principles of the Convention and Protocol, they have undermined negotiations for a second period by demanding that developing nations also make legally binding commitments to reduce their emissions. (See Guardian No. 1516, 31-08-2011)

Last week the government released a joint submission with Norway as a basis for climate change negotiations at the upcoming meeting of ministers in Durban in November. Their submission says that in order “to meet the global goal of holding temperature rise below 2 degrees, enhanced action on mitigation – including a scaling-up of global ambition – is needed.” Its “enhanced action on mitigation” involves abandoning the fundamental principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” of developed and developing nations.

It denies developing countries the right to prioritise development and attempts to absolve the historically biggest polluters of their responsibilities. It expects all but the very poorest of nations (“least developed” in UN language) to commit to reducing emissions, regardless of level of development. Its main targets are China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

It claims “not to prejudice the outcomes for the Kyoto Protocol”, but in the next sentence proposes “a new legally binding agreement capturing targets and actions whether in parallel to the Kyoto Protocol or as a single treaty for parties with mitigation targets and actions, both developed and developing.” Later in the document it opts for a new treaty and further on calls for a new protocol. Nowhere does it offer a role for the KP.

The proposal seeks to abandon legally binding targets negotiated on a scientific basis to meet a global aggregate target. In Their place there would be a loose system of “mitigation targets and actions” and “expected emissions outcomes” determined on an individual basis (emphasis added). It dwells on establishing measuring instruments and other means to “quantify or estimate what mitigation targets and actions mean in terms of emission reductions.”

The governments expects the Durban meeting to agree on negotiating a new treaty that would “embed mitigation targets and actions into a new legally binding Protocol for all parties” in 2015. The one distinction between developed and developing is that developed countries will be held accountable to their targets (it is not clear what that means) and developing countries bound to implement their actions. The submission is concerned to adopt common rules “to provide transparency, promote a global carbon market …” And that is the real agenda, the establishment of a global carbon market.

Time is running out. Developed countries have failed to reach their first round targets. The Australia/Norway (read US/European) submission sets out to replace the KP and possibly the UNFCCC with some inferior agreement, treaty or protocol that might get off the ground in 2015. In 2010 carbon emissions were the highest in history.

It is disgraceful that in Canberra and the corporate mass media the people of Australia are subjected to personal, gutter politics on a carbon price while our government is hell-bent on destroying the KP and our planet to please the financial institutions that seek to turn carbon emissions into a commodity for trading and speculation on international derivative and other markets.  

Next article – Customs and Quarantine staff strike

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