Australia awarded ‘colossal fossil’ award as climate talks drag on

Each year at the end of global climate talks the Climate Action Network hands out a sort of dunce award to the nation its thousand-odd member organisations believe have been least helpful at the conference.

Climate activists stage a protest near the venue for the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow.Credit:PA

The award is called the Colossal Fossil, and as the sun set at what was meant to have been the last day of talks at the Glasgow climate summit it was awarded to Australia for turning up with low targets, for declining to join international pledges to phase out coal or to reduce gas emissions, for what are seen as slack domestic emission reduction policies and for approving coal mines in the lead-up to the conference.

Beyond distracting the members of CAN, the award is largely meaningless. Except, says, ACF climate manager Gavan McFadzean who is in Glasgow as an observer, it does reflect a broader sentiment at the conference.

“Australia was streets ahead in the vote,” he says.

And over the past 12 days or so there’s been ample evidence that Australia is seen as out of line, at least among advanced economies, on climate.

In his address to the COP Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the “Australian Way” of addressing climate change was to support new technology to drive down the cost of reducing emissions. Soon after, he announced Australia would boost its climate aid to the region by $500 million to a total of $2 billion.

The positions did little to stem the criticism that was to follow.

As the conference began Greenpeace published a report about Australia endorsed by a handful of former Pacific Islander leaders entitled, Pacific Bully and International Outcast, which claimed that by doling out aid in the Pacific bilaterally rather than through the internationally sanctioned Green Climate Fund, Australia sought to buy off and silence regional critics.

In its forward the former Kiribati president Anote Tong wrote that in attending the talks without improving its comparatively low 2030 emissions target or rejoining the global climate financing effort it abandoned, Australia does not “reflect a genuine or meaningful contribution to addressing this existential threat.”

At the report’s launch inside the COP campus the following day Greenpeace International’s executive director Jennifer Morgan said, “I’ve attended every single COP since 1995 and at every single one, Australia has been a blocker of climate ambition and climate justice.”

She said at previous conferences Australia was able to hide behind other nations such as the US or China, but as they became more engaged, “Australia has been left standing alone, and it is exposed as a blocker of climate progress.”

During his visit to the talks Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with his Fijian counterpart Frank Bainimarama who gave him a bound version of Fiji’s climate legislation, telling the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that he hoped it would serve as a guide to Australia.

Later, during an interview at the conference with Sky News UK, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, a member of a group of former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, called The Elders, blinked back tears as she struggled to find the words to emphasise how important the talks were.

She said nations that were not working with the world on the issue should be called out, naming Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Australia.

“Australia, a wealthy country, is still in fossil fuel mode, not in crisis mode,” she said.

On the eve of the talks Lord Deben, the UK’s Climate Change Committee chair, told the BBC there was “no indication” that the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, had a plan to deliver on the commitment to net zero that was “squeezed out of him”.

“It’s very sad that a great country like Australia should change our climate,” he said.

“Because that’s what happens. If you allow people to keep on doing this, it’s our climate as well as theirs that’s changed.”

Even the former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, normally averse to singling out countries for criticism mentioned Australia before the talks, saying, “a 26-28 per cent NDC [2030 target] by Australia, which is one of the very important and powerful G20 countries is not leading by example, they really should lead by example, that’s my strong urge as a friend of Australia.”

During the talks, the Dutch EU MP Bas Eickhout warned that there was a “huge difference in the quality” of pledges made in Glasgow.

“Some countries, like the European Union, have pledges and concrete plans on how to get there. On the other hand, Australia came to Glasgow with not much more than a brochure.”

In the second week of the talks the German-based advocacy group Germanwatch published a ranking of the performance of 63 nations and the European Union on greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy use and climate policy. Australia was ranked 55th overall but last on climate policy, for which it scored no marks.

In Glasgow Australia also attracted attention for giving space at its pavilion to the fossil fuel company Santos to display their plans for carbon, capture and storage projects – a technology generally viewed at the COP as being designed to prolong the life of fossil fuel rather than bring down emissions, said Simon Bradshaw, head of research with the Climate Council.

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