“Free-rider” Australia fools no one at climate negotiations


After swinging its wrecking ball through emissions reduction policies at home and the last two United Nations climate summits, the “free-riding” Australian government has faced a grilling from the international community in Bonn over its dodging of meaningful climate action. Its dumping of a working emissions trading scheme for a “Direct Action,” pay-the-polluters approach that blew its budget on its first auction, on existing projects, is coming back to haunt it. Many governments sought details about how it expects to reach its weak five percent on 2000 levels emissions reduction target and, while Australia insisted this unconditional target was “fair”, analysis by Climate Action Tracker shows it is inadequate, and its emissions have jumped since abolishing its carbon price. Australia, per capita among the richest and most heavily polluting nations on earth, continues to argue “special national circumstances”, claiming it needs to open up its vast coal reserves so it can “be a major supplier of crucial energy and raw materials to the rest of the world”. Despite the severe health, environmental and economic costs of coal, and the fact renewables are far more effective than coal for developing nations, Australia continues to push coal industry “energy poverty” PR lines. It justifies strong support for coal on the “new policies scenario” of the International Energy Agency’s world energy outlook 2014, which would result in 3.6DegC of global warming – a catastrophic level of warming that will spell the end of the Great Barrier Reef, on which the Abbott government has just spent $100,000 on travel in a lobbying effort to stop a UNESCO “in danger” listing.

Key Points

  • Tony Abbott wants Australia to stay in the dying coal business, and if he wins on coal, we all lose on climate. Australia is one of the leading countries opposing limits on coal finance in international discussions, and one of – if not the – most vocal about a continued dominating role for coal in the world energy mix in, despite its dire consequences for human health and the planet. There is simply no more space for coal, yet a recent report reveals foreign governments have given Australia more than $4 billion to fund coal projects since 2007.



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Key quotes

  • “[Australia appears] to have withdrawn from the community of nations seeking to tackle dangerous climate change. [It] has gone from leadership to free-rider status in climate diplomacy.” A panel at Africa Progress led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
  • “Other countries, including the US and China, have asked very valid questions about the inadequacy of the Abbott Government’s Direct Action program and lowly emissions reduction target. In response, the Abbott Government has come up with a whole lot of spin and hot air in an embarrassing attempt to cover up its shameful inaction on climate change.” Australian Greens Deputy Leader and climate change spokesperson, Senator Larissa Waters.
  • “The international community came to Bonn looking for Australia to show how it was joining other nations in modernising the global economy and reducing pollution. Australia failed to clarify why it should do less than other countries like the USA and why it is not currently focused on increasing its currently inadequate 2020 pollution targets in line with the actions of other countries.” Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute, Erwin Jackson.
  • “The economic, environmental and health risks of climate change are very real. Prime Minister Abbott would be smarter to back Obama, who is likely to lead the international response to climate change, as a priority, for the rest of his presidential term.” Former Leader of the Liberal party, Chair of AODP.net Dr John Hewson.
  • “With almost all major economies determined to reach an effective global climate agreement in Paris in December, concern is clearly growing over the Australian Government’s low level of ambition so far, and whether the government has the policies to meet even its existing and woefully inadequate emissions targets. Reaching a new global climate agreement depends above all on building trust, accountability and a sense of shared commitment between governments. There is still time for the Australian Government to turn around its steadily worsening reputation in international climate negotiations.” Oxfam Australia climate change policy advisor Dr Simon Bradshaw.
  • “The omens are not good. The federal government remains in total denial that climate change will have any material impact on Australia’s future. Sensible climate policy has been dismantled, replaced with token gestures. Climate change does not feature in the policy reviews underway, with ludicrously Orwellian efforts being made to remove any reference to it throughout government.” Former international oil, gas and coal industry executive, former chair of the Australian Coal Association and the former CEO of the Institute of Company Directors, Ian Dunlop.
  • “As the world moves rapidly away from coal, oil and gas and toward clean energy, Tony Abbott’s lack of leadership on climate change has Australia shirking its global responsibility on the most important issue of our time. As the country with the most to gain by the take up of solar, wind, wave and geothermal energy, Abbott’s belief that ‘coal is good for humanity’ is relegating Australia to the energy dark ages.” 350.org Australia CEO, Blair Palese.
  • “The Abbott Government has consistently failed the responsibility test on climate change, leaving Australia as an embarrassing laggard in a world that is moving to act.  Both the Australian people and the world deserve better than this from the Australian Government on climate change.” Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO, David Ritter.
  • “Firefighters are right on the front lines of the climate threat. We need a leader who will stand and face the climate challenge with our international colleagues, not a leader who runs away.” United Firefighter’s Union QLD delegate, Dean McNulty.
  • “Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world.” Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
  • “The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.” Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
  • “Coal is vital for the future energy needs of the world. So let’s have no demonisation of coal. Coal is good for humanity. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains our prosperity, and coal is the world’s principal energy source and it will be for many decades to come.” Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

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Suggested tweets

  • The #Australian Government seems to be working to have a rogue, wrecker status bestowed upon us #fail #Bonn #INDC #climate ##SB42
  • The people of #Australia really don’t have faith in our leaders on #climate Important to know some of us believe in facts. #climate #UNFCCC #SB42
  • The #Australian Government’s cosy relationship with #fossil fuel mates raise serious questions for the world #climate #UNFCCC #SB42
  • @TonyAbbottMHR “Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity.” Lets see what the #Africans say Friday eh? #africanprogresspanel
  • @TonyAbbottMHR “At the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth the climate was considerably warmer than it is now.” #UNFCCC #SB42 #Bonn
  • @TonyAbbottMHR  to impose substantial costs on the #economy now to avoid unknown and .. even benign changes in the future.” #UNFCCC #SB42
  • @TonyAbbottMHR best line “The #climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us” #Bonn #Paris #UNFCCC #SB42