It has been a rather tumultuous week in Australia in terms of climate politics.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcom Turnbull worked out a deal last week to pass a carbon trading scheme through the Senate, following last August’s rejection of similar legislation. With Senate passage of the bill Rudd could go to Copenhagen poised to be a cooperative party in the effort to reach a global deal.
However, in response to Turnbull’s support for the legislation, back bench Liberal members sacked Turnbull as party leader in favor of Tony Abbott who infamously referred to emissions reduction policy as “absolute crap.” This led to defeat of the bill in the Senate yesterday, dealing a huge political blow to Rudd who may now have to face a round of elections next year.
The Liberals remain rather unpopular in Australia and the opposition within the party towards the climate legislation does not pose well for the party’s prospects in case elections are forced. But the result can’t be good for Rudd who was in Washington discussing climate change, among other things, as the turmoil was happening back home.
There will be an interesting by-election in Higgins over the weekend which is being contested by the Liberals and an insurgent Green candidate. Without a member of Rudd’s Labor party in the race, the Green candidate, Clive Hamilton, could take advantage of negative feelings towards the Liberals for killing climate legislation.
While failure to pass legislation will certainly weaken Australia at the talks in Copenhagen, at least one country doesn’t seem particularly phased: the United States. At a speech in Sydney today, US Ambassador to Australia Jeffery Bleich said that the US is “not disappointed” about the Australian failure. Rudd and Obama, it seems, can commiserate over their lack of influence in their respective senates.
As climate negotiators were meeting in Bonn to advance work on a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Australian Senate rejected legislation that would establish a European-style cap and trade system in the country.
Although Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor party controls the lower House of Representatives, they do not control the Senate. As such, a coalition of right and left parties rejected the legislation. Rudd and his climate minister, Penny Wong, said that they would re-introduce the legislation later in the year. Another rejection would trigger national elections.
Rudd’s legislation is relatively modest (although it could be considered ambitious in the context of the Liberal party’s intransigence): 5% reduction from 2000 levels by 2020 and the institution of a carbon tax in 2011.
The opposition Liberals want to delay the passage of a bill until after the UN negotiations in Copenhagen. They argue that since the US hasn’t passed a bill and that Copenhagen is a place where negotiations occur, it is better for Australia to not lay all of its cards on the table.
The problem with this stance is that if large emitters like the US and Australia keep on delaying, the potential problems associated with climate change get worse and the costs for adaptation and future mitigation soar.
With the US bill currently stalled and the weak targets announced by New Zealand earlier this week, the Australian inaction could add to the frustrations of developing an adequate international agreement.
Photo of Kevin Rudd: London Summit