By Goodman, James; Rosewarne, Stuart | Journal of Australian Political Economy, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview


Goodman, James, Rosewarne, Stuart, Journal of Australian Political Economy

Over the course of 2009, a group of climate change researchers and activists came together, calling ourselves a 'Climate Action Research Group'. Our aim was to reflect on our mounting frustration with the tenor of the climate change debate, the policy initiatives being formulated in Australia and the lack of progress in international negotiations to secure commitments to contain the rapid growth in global atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions. With a view to canvassing a range of concerns and in the interest of igniting more robust debate, we decided to organise a forum to engage voices from across a spectrum of environmental non-government organisations and climate change researchers. Representatives from several leading environmental NGOs and researchers were invited to lead discussion in an open forum on recent climate change debate to provide a richer understanding of the realpolitik of climate change policy in Australia and in the international negotiations. In doing so, we were keen to contemplate the dominant discourses and practices that seemed to hamstring any tangible endeavours to contain climate change and the obstacles to progressing more constructive and meaningful outcomes.

There were a number of setbacks in the debate and policy formulations that unfolded over the latter months of 2009 that gave further purpose to this project. There was some promise at the prospect of the Australian government moving ahead on the nation's Kyoto commitments following the election of the Labor Party to federal government in November 2007. While guarded, this evaporated over the course of 2008 and 2009. Speaking as leader of the Opposition before the election, Labor's then leader, Kevin Rudd, had declared climate change to be "the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time" and called for a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions before 2050. This declaration seemed to be much more than just rhetoric because the first official act of the newly-elected Labor Party was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Prime Minister Rudd was received with acclaim by participants at the Bali Climate Change Conference held in December 2007 when he presented the ratification documents to the United Nations General Secretary. There was also the possibility that some concrete initiatives could emerge from the Labor Party's engagement with the climate change debate, particularly with the Garnaut Climate Change Review Interim Report that had been commissioned by State and Territory Labor governments and the federal Labor Party while in opposition, in February 2008, and the release of a series of related reports culminating in the Garnaut Climate Change Report in July 2008.

However, it was not long before this political promise was eclipsed by the abandonment of any meaningful commitment to emissions reduction. A paltry target of unconditional 5% emissions-reduction-by-2020 target was declared as the Government's key objective. Moreover, the means of achieving this, the so-called Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, was buoyed by a raft of concessions and subsidies to the big emitters. These were then expanded following negotiations with the Liberal Opposition, then led by Malcolm Turnbull, in order to secure passage of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill. An internal Liberal Party furore unseated Turnbull as Leader of the Opposition, and saw him replaced by the climate change denier, Tony Abbott. With the Green Party voting against the Scheme as an ineffective measure, the two parties successfully blocked the Bill in the Senate. The political fall-out fatally undermined Rudd. His replacement as Labor leader and Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, then pushed Labor's commitment to climate change policy into the shadows.

This retreat from substantive action was also reflected in the international climate change negotiations. The December 2007 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Chane deliberations highlighted the great difficulty in garnering a global commitment for effective action. …

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