Australia’s climate reputation hits new low


Cross-posted from Giles Parkinson at Reneweconomy.

Australia’s reputation at the international climate change talks hit a new low on Wednesday after the G77 and China took offence at what they described as the hard-line tactics and “bad behaviour” of the Australian negotiators and walked out of a crucial meeting.

The Australian delegation was accused of blocking all avenues of agreement, placing brackets around any text that was approaching consensus and, worst of all – of wearing t-shirts, “giggling”, and of being “cavalier and insensitive.”

Saleemul Huq, a scientific advisor on the issue of loss and damage to the 132 nations who make up the G77 and China negotiating bloc, said G77 negotiators had walked out of talks at 4am on Wednesday.

“There was continuous blockage of anything they wanted from Australia who were putting brackets around everything,” he said. “The behaviour of Australia’s negotiators was poor, they were being extremely insensitive, wearing t-shirts  …

“This is a serious issue. We are talking about life and death, people are dying from Typhoon Haiyan, we’ve got people on hunger strike here. You don’t trivialise these issues, by giggling, and marking brackets around anything. It is just not done.”

It should be noted that in the institutionalised chaos of international climate talks, particularly in the final days of negotiations, grandstanding is commonplace. But in this fishbowl world of  the UN-sponsored talks in the National Stadium in Warsaw, Australia has now become the whipping boy of climate politics.

The fact that Australian negotiators were casually dressed at the time is not in dispute (although there seems to be some speculation over whether they were wearing t-shirts or pyjamas! As it turns out, RenewEconomy has seen photos of the meeting, and it is t-shirts). But the fact that it is now used as a lightning rod in negotiations shows how far Australia’s stocks have fallen in the past few weeks.

The Fossil Olympics: Australia has unbeatable lead with four gold and a silver.

One EU negotiator questioned whether there was a walk-out, suggesting the meeting was breaking up anyway.  But the negotiator said casual wear was not deemed appropriate “out of respect” for the other. Stinky is tolerated, t-shirts not.

Some observers say Australia’s poor reputation is not entirely deserved, because some developing countries are taking an equally hard line attitude on some crucial issues – for instance in their refusal to be drawn into committing to their own emission reduction targets. Developed countries see this as an equally provocative move that could short-circuit a Paris agreement.

But these and other observers note that Australia had set itself up as the fall-guy of these talks because it has dumped its previously constructive approach to negotiations and adopted a new hardline stance under the new conservative government of Tony Abbott … and because Abbott’s three-word sloganeering, on the domestic stage and even at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka, and his dismantling of climate policies and institutions has been well noted.

Alf Wills, the lead negotiator of South Africa – which is chairing the negotiations on loss and damage and is one of four countries that make up the powerful BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) – said there was disappointment at Australia going no further than its “absolutely least ambitious” emissions reduction target of 5 per cent.

“We are mindful that the Australian government has recently changed, and has a different policy,” he told RenewEconomy. “What is disappointing for us is the comment made by the new prime minister that Australia will only do minus 5%.

“For us it just reinforces the concept that these numbers need to be internationally legally binding, because if governments change, can they just unilaterally change their international commitments … on the basis that they say that wasn’t us, that was someone else?”

Australia, along with Canada and Japan, is accused of adopting an unusually hard-line approach to the talks, not just in loss and damage, but also on the issue of climate finance and the level of ambition. International delegates are surprised and shocked at the turnaround in policies since the new government.

Negotiators say the Australian delegation had come to Poland with seemingly  little room for maneouvre. Some suggested that this was because of a lack of guidance from Canberra, which is not sending any ministerial representative, despite Australia’s influential role as chair of the Umbrella Group, the bloc that represents the non-EU developed countries, and its role in the Cartagena Dialogue, a moderate grouping that aims to seek middle ground on negotiating extremes.

Bangladesh, which insisted that what occurred in the early hours of Wednesday was a walk-out,  said the political change in Australia has completely reversed its position. “How do we try to negotiate with them,” said its head of delegation.

He reproached Australia for intervening on its own behalf, rather than within its negotiating group. “We expect more back-room diplomacy rather than upfront confrontation, which is what you are seeing now,” he said.

Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists and a veteran observer of these talks, said Australia had previously done “a fairly good job” of co-ordinating the Umbrella Group and taking a responsible position.

“I know Justin (Lee, the delegation head) has been trying to be constructive, but for whatever reason they are in a totally different mode of behaviour here,” Meyer said.

“I have seen some pretty bad behaviour over the years, in terms of negotiating tactics and hardball politics – but I haven’t seen people coming with an apparent cavalier attitude.”

Loss and damage is a critical issue for the G77 nations, but a sensitive one for the developed world, who fear that they will have to make payments as compensation for past emissions to affected countries, and have ruled that out.

The Warsaw meeting was supposed to be seeking agreement on the institutional arrangements. The question of money is not on the table (Australia would be offering only help “in kind” in any case). However, the developed and the developing world differ on how the institution should be set up.

“The loss and damage stream is the only stream in Warsaw where we expect a decision,” Huq said. “Everything else is preparation for Paris.  Warsaw does not make or break anything. Except loss and damage.”

“In Doha everyone agreed that in Warsaw we would discuss institutional arrangements for  this. G77 demands a new mechanism, not just a talk shop, but a talk and do shop. It may be symbolic, but it matters to these countries.

“The US and others have been negotiating at a technical level in good faith. It broke down last night because of the Australians.”

Meyer pointed out that no developed country is in favour on financial compensation on the issue of loss and damage.

“By blocking a mechanism, you are saying you fear that you will be forced into compensation at some point down the road.

“No one is going to able to force the EU, the US, and other developed countries into accepting compensation based mechanism. That is very clear, they are not going to go there, but that is being used as the bogeyman.”

(In another development at these talks, Poland has sacked its environment minister Marcin Korolec, who was blamed for holding up work on new shale gas legislation, and replaced him with a deputy finance minister, Maciej Grabowski, who had been responsible for pushing through shale gas legislation. After the Polish government hosted a coal conference earlier this week, this is seen as a bad sign, but Korolec will retain his role as president of the COP19).


  1. Now weren’t we discussing ‘Bullshit Jobs’ the other day? I’m pretty sure negotiating for Australia at UN climate talks at 4am would be in that category, there is no way you’d be feeling like you were achieving anything! No wonder they were wearing t-shirts and laughing at the pointlessness of the charade.

    • Some awesome graphs there 3d1k….

      There would be very few people who would know that China’s per capita emissions are on par with Europe. Scary stuff..

      It makes me all the more depressed knowing that national leaders are completely inept at doing their jobs.

      Negotiating/compromising/dimplomacy/leadership. Without any of these traits, why do we even bother having national governments? Be gone with them! Let the city-state rule again

  2. THIS guy reports it from the skeptical point of view:


    By John Hayward

    20 Nov 2013

    “A little good news to start your day, in a follow-up to Monday’s report about the dour atmosphere at the Warsaw climate-change conference: it looks like the whole shebang has collapsed, as disappointed looters marched out of the conference with empty hands, having failed to sucker “rich” nations into another junk-science redistribution scheme……

    “…..Charitable aid toward the victims of natural disasters, such as the Haiyan typhoon, is great, but there’s no reason to let scam artists pick the pockets of the developed world by pretending it was the wrath of Angry Sky Gods who must be appeased with huge cash sacrifices.

    In case the looters haven’t noticed, those “rich” nations are all mired in economic slowdowns and huge debt crises, both partly due to paying decades of tithe to the Church of Global Warming. Margaret Thatcher’s prophesied day of reckoning, when the socialists run out of other people’s money to spend, has arrived. They certainly don’t have money to burn on the global warming fantasy any more.

    Also, the most effective way to guarantee that “poor” nations remain poor is to let their elites grab bales of other people’s money in redistribution schemes and stuff the loot into government slush funds, or numbered Swiss accounts.

    You’ve got to love the insouciant attitude of Australia toward the latest junk-science con job, in which the older developed nations would pay a stiff fine for daring to bring the benefits of the Industrial Revolution to mankind….

    “…..If the Australians invite me along to the next climate-change fiasco as an observer, I promise to bring a big box of American junk food to contribute to the contemptuous gorging.”

    • The Rudd government spent nearly $1.5 million on travel and accommodation costs for his delegation of 68 to Copenhagen, with $541,271 spent on airfares. That’s an average of $8000 dollars each just for the flights. Doesn’t sound like Economy to me. I hope the free champagne and the big dinners didn’t cloud their sense of purposeful duty.

      How do you get in on this climate change number?

    • Hey are you guys working on that Kiwi filter so we don’t have to put up with Phil’s anti science bile? It really is tiresome.

      • I am getting a bit tired of the certainty and arrogance of the alarmists. Skeptics are only skeptics because they are pro science, not because they are anti science. “Deniers” are people who write things out of history, not people who say those things DID happen, whether the Holocaust or the Medieval Warm Period.

        People who say “the time for debate is over” before there has even been one; set up an international “science” body by a totally opaque process, completely shrouded in secrecy, and swear all contributors and reviewers to secrecy; and demand blanket censorship; are NOT people behaving as if they even believe, themselves, that they have truth on their side. Bear in mind that Martin Luther was opposed to the banning of books, because he said that people who believe the truth is on their side do not behave in that way.

        • People who say “the time for debate is over” before there has even been one;
          The scientific community has been researching this for decades. Indeed, you would struggle to find a field of science in human history subject to more scrutiny than climate.

          They are, almost unanimously, agreed that humanity is the main cause of the climate change we see today.

          One could make an argument that there should be debate about how we address climate change, but that’s rarely the argument being presented.

        • dumb_non_economist

          Geez PB,

          I’d not thought I’d be in a position to say “what a load of fcuking crap” to you!

          You say pro CC are arrogant, yet call them alarmists and say skeptics are pro science. What a bloody joke. Every respected science institute states the science is correct and you have virtually no science on your side, just mainly conspiracy theories.

          • Dr Smithy said:

            “…..They are, almost unanimously, agreed that humanity is the MAIN cause of the climate change we see today…..”

            They are NOT.

            This is “THE” “Big Lie” of the CAGW movement.

            The “97% consensus” relates to:

            CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
            Human activity emits CO2 so as to change the amount in the atmosphere by minute amounts.
            The climate is changing, has done so for millennia, and all of it has been natural until recent times.

            There is not yet any certainty regarding the anthropogenic signal in current climate change. It might be so low we never will isolate it.

            From this to “human emissions are doing most of the changing of climate” is a huge leap of propaganda courtesy of Al Gore, Inc and always was nothing more than this. The IPCC Reports themselves, and the Drafts, which have now been leaked, do NOT support this full alarmist position. The “thousands of climate scientists” (actually hundreds) are NOT 97% unanimous about the conclusions stated in the “Summary for Policy Makers” which is a propaganda position taken by a the small cabal of people who get to write it. Such as the “95% certainty” thing – this is made up out of whole cloth.

            I am “pro science” – I go by the scientists, not the untrustworthy UN mouthpieces and the media megaphones.

            For example, the rampant opportunism of the alarmists surrounding Typhoon Haiyan. Disgraceful….!! Dishonest grandstanding on victims graves. The IPCC Report itself specifically states that there is no observable correlation between storm intensities or frequencies, and anthropogenic CO2.

            The problem is, only skeptics are actually reading the leaked reports……! The alarmists are taking absolutist public positions and claiming the support of “science” that they have not read and that actually does not support them.

            “Skeptic” is a suitable word for courteous debate, not “denier”. “Alarmist” is the counterpart of “skeptic”. There is a counterpart to “denier” but I do not use it. Go to blogs like NZ’s biggest blog, WhaleOilBeefHooked, for that.

          • They are NOT.
            They are.

            Human activity emits CO2 so as to change the amount in the atmosphere by minute amounts.

            I am “pro science” – I go by the scientists, not the untrustworthy UN mouthpieces and the media megaphones.
            Then why do you keep quoting Al Gore ?

            You shouldn’t have trouble finding and referencing some large, organised, peer-reviewed bodies of climate scientists who agree with your position.

            Let us know when you do.

      • Bear in mind that there is no “skeptical” media that does not welcome a jolly good debate, and more and more scientists are using forums like WattsUpWithThat to actually have frank and open discussions at the most advanced scientific level.

        Nor do the blogs that are broadly skeptical of the IPCC and the UN, moderate out alarmist arguments. Just expect to have a tough time from the commenters if you are an alarmist.

    • Regardless of your point of view, I find the article not only lacking in tact, it also fail to mention one important point : the developing nations are asking for compensation if they comply with the rich nation’s request to reducing their CO2 output. They’re not ‘looters’ asking to be paid for nothing.

    • In case the looters haven’t noticed, those “rich” nations are all mired in economic slowdowns and huge debt crises, both partly due to paying decades of tithe to the Church of Global Warming.
      As usual, loon pond rhetoric is indistinguishable from satire.

  3. So first it’s there’s no climate change, then yesthere might be but it’s not anthropogenic then it’s mix up the doubt racket like tobacco scum bag propagandas now it’s oh look at all the torts an stuff. Thousands of career scientists with their snoutsin the trough. I’ve seen better trolling than that fellas. Go away and come back with some cut & paste jobby from a decent “sceptic” site.

    • Climate change ? What happened to global warmenising ?!

      Actually, I think I stopped listening to the green movement after the next apocalyptic event was global cooling in the 1970s.

      • Can you direct me to the claims re global cooling in the 1970s?

        Were these put forward by the ‘green movement’ or was there some sort of consensus amongst scientists?

        I am sincerely interested in reading your sources.

  4. So lets have a “jolly good” debate shall we Mr Best. I am interested in how you are “skeptical” of the consensus of thousands of climate scientists. For instance is it a “it was cold in Wagga Wagga yesterday so there’s no climate change”, is it the newest meme 15 years of lower
    rates of warming (or whatever garbage the usual suspects have bent out of shape), perhaps it’s the halocene was hot one, a bit 15 minutes ago but nevertheless,
    Knock yourself out.

    • I didn’t refer to that site. Those are suggested advertisements for publicly concerned skeptics to run, to counter the extremism on the other side, like Al Gore, Inc who have never been supported by the REAL science, but have raved on about 20-foot sea level rises and other sci-fi scenarios.

      If there is a place in a free society for “Grist”, there is a place in a free society for “GlobalClimateScam”.

      • Philbest, I’m not interested in pitting your “skeptics” opinion against any personality or rock star or politician including Al Gore. I am only interested in facts and how they affect the planet now and and may affect it in the future. as for the question of “alarmist” that would be a subject for a psychologist not a climate scientist. How for instance are you going to measure alarm some are alarmed to have their front lawn dry out. A lot of what you carry on about is merely politics not Verifiable Information which is what a Fact is. Whether you use capital letters or not. As far as the link goes, the fellow you quoted is from that mob, don’t quibble please, you are getting tiresome.

  5. Can someone please explain to Honest Tony that at 1 billion people versus 6 billion people we are on the losing side.

    The maths isn’t really that hard.

  6. If Tony does not believe in AGW, an imminent runaway warming and the proposed measures to control it then he should not play the game with those that do. Fossil awards are just more evidence of bullying and politics at the expense of the science which shows CO2 is no more than an insignificant contributor to global warming.

  7. The Forbes article someone above has sited as being evidence of no consensus in the scientific community is typical of the doubt merchants consensus is a general agreement but in any case a quick search around the net for a reply to James Taylor’s article in Forbes
    Is an example of what people latch onto which amounts to propaganda

    James Taylor misinterprets study by 180 degrees
    Posted on February 14, 2013 by Climate Science Watch

    In a Forbes op-ed, James Taylor takes a study that prominently reveals the anti-science influence of oil and gas companies, and spins it to suggest that serious, substantive disagreement exists among relevant scientists on climate change. This could not be further from the truth, as evidenced by the very study he cites, as well as numerous other studies that have surveyed climate scientists.

    The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus (in PDF format here):