Actually, We're Doing Much Less Than Others


Ever since the failure of the Copenhagen summit, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his self-proclaimed progressive, environmentally friendly government have repeated the same mantra. Australia will do "no more, and no less" than the rest of the world to curb carbon emissions.

This statement sounds egalitarian — it appears to be based on some kind of concept of climate justice, whereby every nation does their part to solve the problem.

However, Rudd’s statement is based on a fiction. It assumes that no nation has acted to combat the problem until now, and that the fight against climate change starts in January 2010.

A new report compiled by a German non-governmental organisation proves Rudd’s assumptions to be false.

The Bonn-based NGO Germanwatch’s 2010 Climate Change Performance Index shows that Australia’s performance on global warming since 1990 is among the worst in the world. Not one other country’s rate of emissions per-person has grown so quickly — and that from an already high base.

The report (extensively covered by the European media during the Copenhagen summit) surveyed the performance of 57 nations, which account for more than 90 per cent of the world’s emissions. It assumes that these nations will have to cut per capita emissions to 1.5 tonnes by 2050 if drastic sea rises and polar melting are to be prevented. According to the Garnaut Review, Australia emits 28.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person — the highest of any OECD country. As other nations attempt to go green, Australia is rapidly going brown.

"The Australian performance … reflects the use of inefficient, old coal power stations," Jan Burck from Germanwatch told last week. "Australia draws on the most carbon intensive sources for the manufacture of power in the world."

Moreover, as other nations switch over to renewable energy, Australia is also doing zip to encourage the use of such technologies. The report found that Australia’s renewable energy sector is the seventh smallest among the nations surveyed — at 5.7 per cent of the total energy production.

"Australia has great potential in relation to wind and solar power, for example," Burck told me. "But it’s simply not developing those sectors … which could create many new jobs."

Overall, only Canada, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia performed worse than Australia on the Index. However, Burck says Australia only bested Canada in the index because the North American nation recently announced that it would no longer adhere to Kyoto.

Indeed, the Germanwatch survey results could have been even worse for Australia. Burck says that neither the impact of last year’s bushfires (which release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere) nor Australian coal exports influenced Australia’s ranking.

While Australia does little to prevent climate change, other nations have been acting, says the report. Brazil, which has been pushing for cuts in greenhouse gases at international forums, finished top of the survey after logging in the country’s bio-diverse rainforests decreased sharply.

Britain was also praised in the report, after the British Government introduced the world’s only comprehensive carbon reduction legislation — "which includes targets and measures through to 2050," according to Burck.

We tried to check whether the Australian Government disputes any of the claims made in the report. asked the Department of Climate Change what positive measures Australia is taking to expand its renewable energy sector. We were also interested to know if the Australian Government thought that more should be done to discourage the use of inefficient coal technology by state government administered energy industries.

Above all, we wanted to know why Australia expects other nations, which have already started to combat climate change, to do more — and that before Australia acts at all.

To date we’ve received no response.

Viewed from Europe, the response of the Australian Government to climate change is mystifying — and the debate about the facts of global warming equally so.

When I asked Jan Burck from Germanwatch what he thought of the debate in Australia about the facts behind climate change, his reaction was blunt.

"Should we discuss if the earth is flat or round? A discussion like that … is simply one I can’t comprehend."


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