Editorial
Troubling shift in global response to climate change

Climate change is a global issue. And so must inaction on climate change be global.

This was the message of Tony Abbott’s trip to Canada this week, of his new axis with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It was a warm reception. There were Mounties and flags and generously outsized guest books. As in Abbott’s cabinet, there was a 19-gun salute.

But the coalition Harper and Abbott formed on climate policy, particularly on the fool strategy of Direct Action, is a troubling shift in the global response to climate change. Inaction has been a by-product of previous summits, but never a stated intention.

Abbott and Harper accept the reality of climate change and of the human contribution to it. But the Earth to them is less fragile than the economy. 

Tony Abbott: “We should do what we reasonably can to limit emissions and avoid man-made climate change but we shouldn’t clobber the economy, and that’s why I’ve always been against a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme, because it harms our economy without necessarily helping the environment.”

And then Harper: “It’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change. We seek to deal with it in a way to protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth – not destroy jobs and growth in our countries. And frankly, in every single country in the world, this is their position. No country is going to undertake actions on climate change, no matter what they say, that are going to deliberately destroy jobs
and growth in their country. And we are just a little more frank about that, but that is the approach that everyone has.”

Abbott continued: “There is no sign – no sign – that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted. If anything, trading schemes are being discarded, not adopted.”

Set against US President Barack Obama’s commitment to cut by 30 per cent emissions from coal-fired electricity generation, in part through the establishment of a trading scheme, Abbott’s enthusiasm for a new right alliance between Australia, Canada, Britain, India and New Zealand can only be seen as isolationist – a shift back in time to an Anglosphere that will watch as the world moves on.

Britain and New Zealand have already signalled they would have no interest in such an axis. Greg Baker, Britain’s Conservative minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, put it this way: “I think you can take it the UK won’t be joining an alliance against regulation.” 

But even if an Axis of Inaction is dismantled by the good sense of the countries Abbott had hoped would join it, the very proposal shows just where Abbott sees Australia’s place in the world: somewhere before John Curtin first reached out to America in 1941.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 14, 2014 as "Axis the taxes". Subscribe here.

Editorial