Friday, November 30, 2007

Australia's New Environmental Rudder

For years, the United States has been able to dodge claims that it stood alone against the Kyoto Protocol. Even leaving aside developing countries with no legal obligations under Kyoto, the U.S. could point to its developed brother in nonratification arms: Australia. Soon the U.S. will face the heat of the global climate change treaty issue alone.

Australia's newly minted Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has announced that the Lucky Country will finally ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Fluent in Mandarin, and seemingly so cool that even rockstars are joining his band, Labor, Rudd has announced that he will personally lead Australia's delegation to the second United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change sessional period and Thirteenth Conference of the Parties ("COP-13) that begins on December 4th, 2007. Despite widespread Labor Party allegations that John "Battler" Howard, Australia's newly defeated Prime Minister, doomed his country on the global climate front, even without ratification the country is still on track to meet its Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions target of 8% above the 1990 baseline level.

Rudd takes the helm with an motley assortment of environmental policies. One might have assumed that an avowedly pro-environment leader, such as Rudd, and a former head of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Midnight Oil lead singer, Peter Garrett, opposed Howard's government's decision to approve the proposed huge Bell Bay pulp mill in Tasmania. After all, the mill will be fed by the liquidation of Tasmanian old-growth forest, and will then pump effluent containing chlorine and dioxins into the Bass Strait. Oddly, however, Rudd and Garrett supported Howard's decision. Anticipating the critics, Environment Minister-in-waiting, Garrett, has tried to reassure his supporters, stating that his environmental policies are not a "betrayal of anything at all including my principles".

Even on global climate change, Rudd's government will face significant credibility challenges. As he ratifies Kyoto in Bali, and pledges to reduce Australia's future emissions of GHGs, he might spare a thought for one of factors underlying his Lucky Country's current boom economy: huge exports of strip-mined coal to energy-ravenous, and future GHG emission champions, China and India. To achieve more environmentally defensible - and consistent - government policies, Rudd, Garrett, and the rest of the Labor Party would do well to ponder some familiar questions:

How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

To find the answer, they may find themselves burning the Midnight Oil.


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