G20: Australia makes token concession on climate change after US lobbying

Government resists calls for climate change to be listed as a major agenda item, but agrees to include in final communique

Australia has reluctantly conceded that climate change can be included in a single brief paragraph of the G20 leaders’ communique after heavy lobbying by the US and European nations.

The government had resisted any discussion of climate at the Brisbane meeting on the grounds that the G20 is primarily an economic forum, but other nations argued leaders’ agreements at meetings like the G20 are crucial to build momentum towards a successful international deal at the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris next year.

The final wording of the leaders’ statement after the meeting is still being finalised but it is believed to simply recommit to addressing climate change through UN processes.

The outcome – and Australia’s resistance – have been attacked by the leading climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, who has written for Guardian Australia that the latest “synthesis” report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be “high on the agenda” for the G20 meeting.

“The G20 is the most effective forum for the discussion of the growth story of the future, the transition to the low-carbon economy. Yet the local politics of a country of less than 25 million is being allowed to prevent essential strategic discussions of an issue that is of fundamental importance to the prosperity and well-being of the world’s population of 7 billion people,” he writes.

Australia has agreed the G20 should discuss climate-related issues as part of its deliberations on energy efficiency, but this also appears to be wrapped up in a general commitment that countries consider taking action in the future on some of a long list of areas where energy efficiency improvements might be made.

Australia is understood to be taking the “lead” at the talks on moves for better energy efficiency in building standards – something Australia may achieve with funding from its new $2.5bn Direct Action climate scheme.

The US is “leading” on improvements in heavy vehicle emission standards, and other nations on improvements in the efficiency of household appliances and devices like computers and phones.

None of the discussions are likely to require G20 nations to commit to anything, but the Australian government has also been considering new undertakings on light vehicle emission standards – especially after domestic car production ceases, when it would not have any impact on Australian manufacturing.

Progress on implementing the G20 leaders’ decision in September 2009 to “rationalise and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption” has also been slow. A proposal for countries to voluntarily submit their progress towards this goal for “peer review” has been met with fierce resistance.

In a special “message” about the G20 release on Sunday, Tony Abbott also did not mention climate change. “The G20 focus will be on the fundamentals of the economy: trade, infrastructure, tax and banking. Our discussions will include the $1trn worldwide infrastructure gap, reducing tax avoidance by global companies and increasing participation in the workforce.

“While a stronger economy won’t solve every problem, it will make almost every problem easier to tackle.”

Abbott has previously insisted it is important to keep a clear and narrow focus for the G20 agenda “to ensure that these international meetings don’t cover all subjects and illuminate none”.

US president Barack Obama’s international adviser, Caroline Atkinson, has insisted publicly that leaders around the table at the G20 will raise climate change.


Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia political editor

The GuardianTramp

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