At the UN climate Jamboree at Le Bourget, near Paris, the Climate Concord 2015 finally rattles into the station complete with buffet car and sleeping carriages and the last word in anti-macassars. A straining boiler creaks and hisses superheated steam. Hastily applied stove polish sizzles over rusty bits. Rivets pop. Pressure valves blow. Global warming must be kept below 1.5 degrees, all at last agree. Hurrah! It is a breakthrough and a catastrophe. All aboard!
Bleary-eyed delegates totter wearily aboard, thankful any train has arrived at all, knowing full well, that while the Paris 2015 agreement is the best we can do, it is nowhere near good enough to get us home safely. It is not a treaty. For all the talk of it being legally binding, it is only an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees. We have no agreed route to get there.
Father of climate change awareness NASA scientist James Hansen thinks we are all being taken for a ride.
‘It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, …just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.’
The final ‘aspirational target’ of 1.5 degrees is better than Hansen expected but there is a big gap between this and the woefully inadequate targets nations have set themselves which might, perhaps, limit global warning to 3 degrees at most. A carbon price placed on major emitters, which Hansen and others advocate as the only real way to get pollution down to 1.5 above pre-industrial levels, is still a bridge too far for most governments.
CICERO, Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo predicts that at our current rate of emissions the world will have produced enough carbon dioxide by 2020 to lock in 1.5 degrees warming. But, hey, there will be regular inspections every 5 years to confirm we are on our way to certain extinction. Yet no-one can make a profit out of a dead planet. Business and finance have been eagerly hopping aboard recently.
In the last year, investors have rushed into a low carbon economy. John Kerry, US Secretary of State is upbeat. ‘While we’ve been debating, … the clean energy sector has been growing at an incredible rate.’ Clive Hamilton of Charles Sturt University calls it an amazing shift among investors and ‘non-state actors’ that ‘signals a sea-change in climate action that now seems unstoppable’.
Self-interest is worth backing because it is a horse which will always run on its merits. In one year, The Montreal Carbon Pledge under which large investors commit to measuring and reporting on the carbon footprint of their portfolios, has been signed by investors controlling more than US$10 trillion in assets.
A ‘Science Based Targets’ initiative, has seen 114 large corporations pledge to reduce their emissions in a way consistent with a 2℃ objective. Big corporations including Ikea, Coca-Cola, Dell, General Mills, Kellogg, NRG Energy, Procter & Gamble, Sony and Wal-Mart have already signed up and are implementing plans.
Curbing climate change has long been presented as a choice between development or environment, thanks largely to the propaganda units of fossil fuel interests such as Peabody Energy. Recent developments seem set to challenge this logic. A bloc of vulnerable countries has now formed. Combine these voices with the development of renewable energy capacity. Add a commitment by rich nations to fund poor nations’ climate mitigation and adaptation and the old equation is set to be disproved.
Agreement has been a slow train coming. In 1995 in Berlin, the first UN Conference would have been able to achieve a 1.5 degree warming target but the train was derailed by fossil fuel lobbyists who were able to take advantage of politicians only too willing to trade short term gain for long term disaster.
50,000 delegates, media, rent-seekers and hangers-on from 193 nations skitter all over the talking shop in a last minute flurry of pledges, alliance building, mutual suspicion, misunderstanding and folie à foule. Only two things are certain. This moment has been over twenty years in the making yet no-one can predict exactly what it all means. It will never happen again.
Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum is photographed being tightly embraced by a dazzling Julie Bishop, who channels her inner Pirelli calendar girl to glamorise Australia’s Leyland P76 lemon of a climate change policy. She also covers for Hunt who puts in a pretty ordinary performance, even for him.
Jules is all over her ‘good friend’ Tone like a rash but even her full frontal frottage fails to gate-crash his ‘coalition of ambition’, a melange of 80 developed and developing countries including the US, EU, Canada and Brazil – aimed at offsetting a push by China, India and Saudi Arabia to water down the wording as negotiators go at it hammer and tongs well after the final siren.
De Brum says he is happy to take down Bishop’s particulars but Australia will have to make its case. ‘We are delighted to learn of Australia’s interest and look forward to hearing what more they may be able to do to join our coalition of high ambition here in Paris.’
Kiribati’s President Anote Tong who voted for Australia to be on the UN security council because of its pledge to put climate change on the agenda says his country now feels betrayed by Coalition policy on global warming. He is far less diplomatic in his assessment of Australia’s commitment. ‘They don’t feel it, they don’t know it, [and]they don’t care: They care about the next election.’
Clearly, a window of opportunity opens for Australia’s Minister for a coal-powered future, George Brandis’ ‘climate intellectual’ Greg Hunt who whispers that curbing global warming to less than 20′ is ‘a deeply personal goal’ of his whilst eagerly, hastily, approving vast new coal mines. If anyone can wangle us a seat on the coalition of high ambition, Hunt the agile, nimble-witted, back-flipper Hunt. If only someone could find him.
Conflicted and compromised publicly by his flawed performance as protector of the Great barrier Reef Hunt’s profile in Paris is lower than a Yakka skink by Thursday. He may just have nodded off. Luckily, crowd-pleaser Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, always makes herself freely available. And hits a bum note.
Bishop attracts attention and unkind parodies. Marie Antoinette caricatures of her appear as if by witchcraft for advocating coal as a solution to world hunger. ‘Let them eat coal.’
Bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived negotiators hold all-night indaba, a Zulu word for discussions around huge tables of 80 officials from as many countries in which everyone present must speak and be heard. Agreement on a common but differentiated responsibility’, a Nicene Creed of climate change ownership in its complexity, is reached by attrition through an exhausting series of redrafts and revisions. Specifics are edited into hazy generalities until real commitment to curb global warming threatens to disappear completely like the Cheshire Cat leaving nothing behind but its smile – of good intentions.
Delegates of rich nations seek to erase their oversize carbon footprints; their historic responsibility for polluting the planet’s atmosphere. Poor countries lobby to lock in emissions exemptions in the name of development. Convention mastermind, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, says the talks are ‘the most complicated and difficult negotiations’ of his career.
The fate of the planet hangs by a thread, a frayed, well-chewed-over form of words, a universal agreement on climate change achieved by a ‘consensus model’ in which every official of every nation has to agree to every word in six languages in a marathon of talking. It is a miracle there is any consensus at all.
Inexplicably out of range of ABC microphones, veteran talkfest-meister Greg Hunt is last seen publicly in a failed attempt to put his case at a screening of naturalist David Attenborough’s documentary on the Great Barrier Reef. Australians are forced instead to endure rational, informed and objective commentary on proceedings from bodies such as The Climate Institute, although, as always Julie Bishop gets a good look in to shore up optimism and positivity. Minister for Are We There Yet?, she stays relevant by reporting agreement is imminent and that it’s all been a lot of hard work.
Is Hunt sulking? Or just skulking? In the panel discussion after the Attenborough screening, Thursday, Aussie biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg who has made a lifetime study of the reef says Australia must choose to either proceed with its $16 billion Adani coal mine or protect the Great Barrier Reef. Hunt, mistakenly believing Australia has funded some of the BBC documentary in yet another of his hilarious crossed wires, forcefully requests to speak at the end of the film only to riff about Australia’s innovative neo-neo-colonialism.
Rather than choose to address the disconnect between promoting coal mining and protecting the reef, Hunt, instead, boosts Australia’s piddling $140m ‘reef trust’ aimed to combat soil erosion, crown of thorns starfish and other threats. Earlier he explains that Australia approved Adani because we are not a ‘neo-colonialist’ power that tries to tell poor countries what to do. For Hunt, that clears up the issue. For Tong, it lacks moral justification. Above all it is a specious argument that ignores Australia’s history.
Australia’s neighbours may beg to differ with Hunt, especially those fielding boatloads of Border Force refugee turn-backs. Or Pacific Islanders, long colonised by Aussie multinationals. In Profits of Doom, Antony Loewenstein explains how PNG has been made dependent on Australian aid, about $500 million a year. About 60% of this will end up with Australian corporations. Bishop’s ‘New Aid Paradigm’ with its slogan of poverty reduction through economic growth continues to boost the fortunes of our neo-colonial investors.
Julie Bishop, mistress of the universe of diplomatic discourse does, however raise Australia’s profile with her lecture to delegates in which she upholds coal as the solution to world poverty. ‘Let them eat coal’ plays to bemused delegates who check their programmes in case they’ve accidentally wandered into the Climate Change Circus which runs concurrently with COP21. Consensus is rapidly reached. The Australian Foreign Minister has been at the Peabody Energy drinks cabinet again.
‘It will be innovation and technological breakthroughs that will ultimately be the game changer in our climate change response,’ Bishop waffles in what is billed as our ‘National Statement’, an embarrassing excuse for not being able to admit you have no ideas whatsoever. Or no intention of curbing emissions. And less concern.
Bishop’s statement reiterates Hunt’s misleading statistical nonsense about our target of a 26% reduction on 2005 levels being ‘ambitious’ and the falsehood that we are per capita leading the world in our emission cutting. Climate Change Authority analysis and projection, however, shows Australia continuing to lead the world right out to 2030 and beyond it in its pollution per capita.
Surely now, Greg Hunt will reveal Australia’s secret admirers’, those direct action fans or groupies, he alludes to so often. The minister for the environment has kept everyone in suspense with his repeated claims his nation’s Direct Action had attracted much favourable attention. Yet it all seems a case of misreporting. All Hunt is claiming is OECD and IEA approval of his reverse auctions.
During an OECD panel discussion, Hunt claims ‘Both the International Energy Agency and the OECD have said reverse auctions could be the most effective means of price discovery.’ Whatever the truth of his claim, it relates only to a small sub-component of his scheme and not Direct Action itself.
As Lenore Taylor notes, a deluded Hunt has wasted his time in Paris pretending that his ERF is a price on carbon and the peddling the preposterous lie that the world is remotely interested in his Direct Action.
At home, consumed by paranoid delusions of betrayal, Ayatollah Abbott is still barking mad. Still shrewd enough, however, to spot a strike-back opportunity, he rubbishes Islam. Helpfully, he further poisons the turbid well of the nation’s international relations and foments Islamophobia at home by attacking Islam for its backwardness. Pauline Hanson is interviewed on ABC shortly afterwards on the coattails of Abbott’s disingenuous mischief-making, rabble-rousing.
Unlike his own faith with its history of crusades, Inquisitions and conquistadors, Islam is a menace in Abbott’s eyes because it lacks the seasoning of reformation. ‘Cultures are not all equal. We should be ready to proclaim the clear superiority of our culture to one that justifies killing people in the name of God.’
God only knows what the coal lobby will find for Abbott to say next or how Hunt will claim that the UN decision is a victory for Direct Action and that we are already so far ahead of our targets we don’t’ need to do a tap until 2020. Add in Ian McFarlane’s defection to the National Party as a means to getting back in cabinet and it will take real leadership to steer government away from the fossil fuel obsessed towards something renewable.
Today’s report that Hunt was sidelined while Turnbull removed Abbott’s restrictions on Clean Energy Finance for wind farms is an encouraging sign that the PM is prepared to encourage green energy, yet he still owes favours to the Nationals’ agenda of retaining Direct Action.
‘There’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian,’ PM Turnbull repeats, playing the straight man before a non-sequitur worthy of Hunt, ‘We need to embrace new ideas in innovation and science, and harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of economic prosperity in Australia.’ What Turnbull will have to do soon, however, is stop talking and put his money where his mouth is.
We don’t need no innovation, with apologies to Pink Floyd. Keep coal in the ground and invest in clean, renewable energy without further ado. It’s our last chance to act to match the aspirations of Paris with deeds that may earn us some respite if not reprieve from the inexorable changes we have caused by allowing carbon in our atmosphere to reach 400 parts per million.
Cancel all coal mine projects at once. Get out of coal-fired power generation. Boost investment in solar and wind. Abandon the Peabody propaganda. We have nothing to lose by getting out of fossil fuels. And a whole world to re-gain.