Climate change has been on the agenda at the past three G20 summits, but when the world’s top economies converge on Brisbane later this year, it will be regulated to broader discussions on energy.
That’s despite a plea from the nation’s top health workers to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, penned in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) this month.
The open letter, signed by 12 leading figures in health, including Nobel laureate Peter Doherty and former Australians of the Year Fiona Stanley and Sir Gustav Nossal, urges Mr Abbott to include climate change in the agenda.
“The world community looks to high-income countries for a strong lead. Current climate trends, driven by global warming, threaten the basis of future economic prosperity, regional political stability and human health,” the letter says.
“As concern rises in many countries, including increasing awareness of the risks to human health and safety, many G20 members are strengthening their commitment to substantive mitigation action. The new United States regulations limiting coal-fired power plant emissions are explicitly linked to the protection of health.
“Meanwhile, if Australia passes up opportunities for new energy technologies and efficiencies, we will forfeit gains in long-term economic security and fail to contribute fairly to reducing worldwide risks to human health.”
Earlierthis year, leading economist and author of the Garnaut Review, Prof Ross Garnaut said the “G20 had a record of leadership on the international climate change agenda”.
He said a firm position on a way forward from the world’s leading economies could set up discussions for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima in December 2014, and then crucial UNFCCC talks in Paris in December 2015.
“The G20 is ideally suited as the main forum for overcoming the ‘free rider’ problem of collective action on climate change. It contains all of the world’s main greenhouse gas emitters and all the countries that are most important to effective global effort on climate change, as well as those that have been most active in the UNFCCC,” Prof Garnaut wrote in Business Spectator.
“While the G20 contains the most influential developed and developing countries, it can stand outside the entrenched and stereoptypical divisions that have become barriers to effective action within the UNFCCC, with its huge and unwieldy membership and traditions of symbolic posturing.”
American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who is also a special advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, also stressed the importance of the G20 discussions in an interview with the MJA this month.
“The G20 countries are the world's most important economies,” Prof Sachs told the MJA.
“They account for the lion's share of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the G20 gets its house in order, the world can be saved. If not, the G20 will wreck the world, pure and simple. So what will it be?
“Will the richest and most powerful countries also be the most short-sighted, or willthey understand that they hold not only their fate but the fate of humanity in their grasp?
“Brisbane is therefore crucial. The prospects are not bright. The Australian Government claims it is driven by science, but it seems to us on the outside that it is driven by mining interests, or by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the world's number one anti-science propagandist.”
As host country, Australia controls the agenda for this year’s G20, but the Prime Minister’s office has said climate change will be part of broader discussions under the “energy” agenda.
The approach has surprised few. Earlier this year, in New York Abbott knocked back suggestions climate change was the most important global issue of our times.
“Climate change is a significant global issue – it is a very significant global issue. Is it the most important issue the world faces right now? I don’t believe so.”
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