A season for change? China and the new frontier in Australian climate politics

Food & climate change article written on the 01 Oct 2010

I’ve heard that we’re in a new paradigm.
I’ve heard we face a new political reality.
Earlier this week, our newly formed Parliament sat for the first time. This weird and wonderful configuration of people brings both challenges and opportunities. Excitingly the make-up of the Parliament – in both the upper and lower house – appears set to allow for real progress to be made on tackling climate change compared to just two months ago.

This is welcome news as the past few months have terrifyingly demonstrated what unmitigated climate change might look like. The floods in Pakistan, record heat waves across Europe and steadily melting ice in the arctic are all signposts for future impacts.

In Australia we now have a new Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet. We’ve seen the commencement of a new climate change committee, and a prominent mining company calling for a price on carbon pollution. Amidst all this change, it would be understandable that next week, for the first time ever, the United Nations climate change negotiations will be held in China

From October 4-9 all nations will come together in the city of Tianjin in the north-east of China to work on the building blocks of a global climate treaty. This is the final meeting before the major UN Climate Summit of 2010 which will be held in Cancun, Mexico in December.

China knows about the impacts of climate change. Melting glaciers are threatening the water supply to hundreds of millions of people in China. Changing seasons are reducing crop production. Rising sea levels threaten to inundate millions living in cities like Shanghai and Tianjin.

I am not sure how many times I have heard people say that Australia should not act because China’s doing this and China’s doing that. No one can deny that China has a rapidly growing economy and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. However, to suggest that China is not taking action on climate change is simply false.

China is investing far more into renewable energy than Australia. In 2009 they invested around 35 times as much as Australia. And lets also keep in mind that the average Australian contributes more than 4 times as much greenhouse gas pollution as the average Chinese citizen.

But its not just China that has a lot to lose on account of climate change. Poor people around the world are the most vulnerable to climate change. They already face a range of challenges around food security, water scarcity, conflict, disease etc. Climate change is already placing significant pressure on these crises and it stands to get much, much worse.

This is the global context in which Australia sends its team of negotiators to Tianjin in China. They are an able group of people. However, they need a strong mandate from our Government to push for the building blocks for a fair, ambitious and binding treaty.

I will be in China tracking our Ambassador for Climate Change, Louise Hand and the negotiating team. I will be blogging, (hyper link to your blogs here) tweeting (hyperlink to your twitter account here) and videoing on Australia’s performance at the negotiations. Post your questions on my blogs for Louise Hand and I will make sure she hears them.

The world needs serious action from wealthy countries like Australia. Together we must keep our government accountable and ensure they act as leaders, not laggards, on climate action.

Is there a new paradigm?
Time will tell.

Tracking for a safe climate,
Phil.