#Australian Prime Ministers and #climate change aka “Turnbull goes to Paris…” #auspol

Malcom Turnbull is going to the Paris Climate Talks., for the photo opportunity that the French are staging at the outset, hoping to avoid a repeat of the Copenhagen debacle. Environment Minister Greg Hunt will be there for the first week and Julie Bishop, angling for a co-chair role on the Green Investment Bank, will be there for the second.

As sentient Australians will know, Australia’s engagement with international environmental law has been, well, spotty, of late.

Things got off to a good start with Australia actively engaged at the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the United Nations Environment Program that came from that. By the late 1980s, thanks to action on whaling, ozone and especially the Antarctic, Australia had a reputation as a ‘good international citizen’. Then Foreign Secretary Gareth Evans pointed out that as what the international relations theorists call a ‘middle-power; Australia must “pursue our own political and economic interests with maximum effectiveness, but in a way that makes as positive a contribution as possible to a more peaceful and prosperous world.”

Negotiations for a climate agreement raced along in 1991. Prime Minister Bob Hawke had said he would go to the Rio Earth Summit where deals on both climate and biodiversity would be signed, but was deposed by Paul Keating before he could have that pleasure. Keating didn’t go to Rio, saying he had an election to fight. In the end, Ros Kelly, the Environment Minister, enthusiastically signed the climate pact, and in December 1992 Australia was the eighth nation to ratify the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”, with its vague goal that rich nations would return their emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

In the 18 months between Rio and enough nations signing for the agreement to come into force, and trigger the first “Conference of the Parties,” Australian business leaders got active, and there was talk of Australia potentially withdrawing from the UNFCCC agreement. By the time the first “COP” was held in March- April 1995, the Australian position had hardened to a demand that developing countries also have targets, and special consideration for Australia as a country with high coal usage, a spread out and growing population, and one expecting to make a packet from its fossil fuel exports (in this last it was joined by Nigeria and Saudi Arabia).

Keating, still not keen on the environment, and only a year from another election, sent John Faulkner, who put a brave face on it – “We came here to deal with the greatest threat to the global environment and the process has been partly to achieve a balance between all the countries affected by climate change.”

However, against the wishes of the Australian government, an agreement that only rich nations would have binding carbon cuts emerged. The so-called “Berlin Mandate,” it called for a deal to be made by the end of 1997.

John Howard’s Coalition government won power in March 1996. Although business could expect a very sympathetic hearing (by this time the Liberals position on climate change had shifted far from its 1988 to 1990 more-ambitious-than-Labor position), nothing could be taken for granted. On May 28 1996 a letter was sent by the Business Council for Australia and the new-ish “Australian Industry Greenhouse Network”. The letter expressed concern about Kelly-esque enthusiasm for international agreements. In part it called for

“a process to facilitate future developing country involvement in parallel with commitments for developed countries” (anathema still to India) and opined that “For Australia any outcome which does not allow for some growth in emissions would be unachievable, inequitable and extremely costly to the Australian economy.”

The letter also extolled the virtues of “independent” economic modelling that, it later emerged, had been mostly paid for by big fossil fuel companies (for details, see Clive Hamilton’s two books on Australian climate change policy “Running from the Storm” (2001) and “Scorcher” (2007).

This – the “national interest” understood through the lens of fossil fuels – was in essence the Howard government’s position at the next meeting, in Geneva, where it was seriously isolated (Clinton, facing an election, had signalled a willingness to talk about targets and timetables).

Intense trans-Pacific co-operation and lobbying by opponents of emissions followed, with a “Countdown to Kyoto” conference happening in Canberra in August 1997, complete with US Senators, doubting scientists and Greenpeace protesters. Famously, through some “hard bargaining” the Australian delegation was able to get both a target that allowed an increase in emissions and further wiggle room for ‘reduced land clearing’ – the “Australia clause”. For these services, Environment Minister Robert Hill reportedly received a standing ovation from his Cabinet colleagues.

Although Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol, it was slow in ratifying, and once President George Bush pulled America out, the stage was set for John Howard to do the same. He chose to announce it on World Environment Day, June 5th, 2002.

By now cracks were showing in Business Council of Australia between sectors that thought there was money to be made from Kyoto ratification, carbon cuts and emissions trading (bankers, gas providers mostly) and those who didn’t (miners) or thought it was a Communist hoax. Unable to resolve it, the BCA adopted a “no position” position. However, business lobbyists continued to be an integral part of the Australian COP delegations, to much amazement and consternation.

The Kyoto Protocol, which only called for very minor cuts, limped into existence with Russian ratification in February 2005. Now in his fourth term, John Howard advocated Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, widely seen as an attempted ‘spoiler’ to the Kyoto Protocol. US Congress had other ideas, and refused to fund it.

Recent times

Kevin Rudd’s first official act was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. A week later he received a standing ovation at the Bali Climate Conference. His reception at Copenhagen, where he had become a ‘friend of the chair’ was less effusive, and his speech, which he had personally rewritten, gained no traction (Chubb, 2014)

Given the domestic pain she suffered over climate policy, Julia Gillard can be forgiven for not having booked flights to Cancun, Doha or Durban. In any case these were not COPs at which leaders were wanted or expected

The recent history is too fresh (and perhaps painful) to bear very much repeating.

“In 2013, for the first time outside an election period, the Australian delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) was not led by a minister.” (source)

Abbott’s derision about the Green Climate Fund (the one that Julie Bishop has angled to co-chair) as an “international Bob Brown bank” at the September 2013 CHOGM meeting provoked an unprecedented ‘minority report’ within the leaders communique (Sheridan, 2013)

Abbott studiously avoided the special UN summit in New York in September 2014, despite being nearby.

Attempting to keep climate off the G20 agenda in Brisbane, Tony Abbott was metaphorically shirt-fronted by reality, in the shape of an agreement between the USA and China.

While business seems to want ‘policy certainty’ (see the June 2015 launch of the Australian Climate Roundtable) Australia’s coal exports are not on the agenda.

Something will come of Paris. While emissions trading and carbon capture and storage are off the table, and even the word “treaty” is out, the Chinese are making noises that keep optimists optimistic. Perhaps if Julie Bishop gets the co-chair of what was derided as the ‘Bob Brown’ bank, the coal industry will be able to access the ‘Green Climate Fund’. We will know soon enough.

Prof Kevin Anderson on #climate, INDCs IAMs and much else

Here’s another part of the interview with Professor Kevin Anderson.  It covers some of the same ground as what has already been posted (see below for explanation)- the inadequacy of the Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (the pledges for Paris), but goes into much more detail on the nature of Bio-energy Carbon Capture and Storage, the problems with the “Integrated Assessment Models”, the problems of reductionism and the limits of human intelligence/governance.

On Monday 23rd November Professor Kevin Anderson did an interview on climate change.  I failed to double-check the position of the camera, and so after 20 minutes realised that the framing was off.  We started again, covering the same ground (thanks Kevin!).  When I looked at the footage I saw that while it was bad, it wasn’t totally unusable, AND Kevin went into interesting detail about a few things that we glossed over more in the second attempt.  So, while it is “part three” in terms of what has been put up already, it’s actually “part one”, i.e. first attempt.

Professor Kevin Anderson on #Paris #Climate #hope and much more

This post originally appeared on Manchester Climate Monthly.

Climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson spoke to Manchester Climate Monthly on Monday 23rd November. In the two separate videos that follow, you can see him outlining what is at stake in the upcoming Paris climate conference – the nature of the individual nations’ pledges (INDCs) and how they actually add up to 3 or 4 degrees of warming, not the 2.7 that’s being widely quoted. He believes there is still a (very) slender chance that we can keep warming below two degrees, but it will require a much larger effort than anything currently on the table, and within months the option will be gone.

He looks at the heroic assumptions involved in “Bio-energy Carbon Capture and Storage” before turning to the history of the “two degrees” claim and what it means, the question of ‘what is to be done’, of hope, responsibility and much else.

As ever, Kevin’s answers are comprehensive, carefully modulated around what is fact and what is interpretation, and compelling.

First video

0 minutes What are INDCs? And why should the claim that the INDCs add up to roughly 2.7 degrees of warming very questionable?

INDCs are the “voluntary contributions” (pledges), only go out to 2030, hard to quantify because being submitted in different forms. LOTS of assumptions in this. UNEP Emissions gap report released recently suggests 3 to 4 degrees.
And all the assessments assume that we will develop techniques to suck carbon out of the atmosphere – “BECSS” – Bio-energy Carbon Capture and Storage, and roll them out. Lots of very heroic assumptions in all this

7 minutes and 30 seconds – “It’s the responsibility of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth”

Must be careful ascribing intentionality to deceive – it’s an “emerging conspiracy”, of iterative failure, making it harder and harder to do anything.

10 mins. You live in hope?

“We are incredibly unlikely to succeed on two degrees. We are unlikely to hold to three.” Paris is probably the end-game for two degrees C. We’ve lost all the our carbon budgets for that…”

13 mins Explain what two degrees means and why it matters?

Second video

O mins – what did we agree at Copenhagen?

We agreed at Copenhagen to take action to stay below two degrees, consistent with science and on the basis of equity. And didn’t do it- the INDCS are not two degrees, not consistent with science, and massively inequitable.

1 mins 40 Why are you going to Paris?

2 mins 30 What should we as citizens be doing in 2016?

5 mins 40 Who do we push then?

7 mins 30 There seem to be no levers that people of good faith can pull on to even slow down the acceleration of the juggernaut.

“We’ve come to a consensus of apathy” … we have all been co-opted…

9 mins 50 “But then you become a voice in the wilderness”?

10 mins 50 What changes do we expect – food prices, wetter winters?

If only it were that. And who for? People living near the sea level in Bangladesh, or rich people in the Northern Hemisphere? We think we can get by, build big enough walls to cope with 2 or 3 degrees warmer.

“We need imagination, clarity and courage.”

14 mins 10 Is there a country or a region that is doing things in the right direction, even if not at the right speed or scale?

16 mins 35 Anything else you’d like to say?

On optimism, pessimism, personal carbon allowances

Recent articles about #Australia and #climate negotiations

Hat-tip to John Englart and his excellent  article here on the Australian diplomatic position.  These are some of the articles that he refers to.

Arup, T. 2015. Climate change: Can a wounded Paris deliver for the planet? The Age, 22 November.

Englart, J. 2015. Can a leopard change its spots? Australia’s schizophrenic #climate diplomacy. Nofibs.com.au 11 November.

Readfern, G. 2015. Australia’s lead public servant for global climate talks reveals hopes and fears for Paris. The Guardian, 19 November.

Taylor, L. 2015. Australia to claim success on climate target, with help of accounting rules. The Guardian, 22 November.

Learning Curve: Australia and the #Climate Negotiations #Paris

Below is a short briefing, in the format of a Q and A, about the upcoming Paris climate talks, and Australia’s role over the last 30 years (and the motivations behind that).  There’s also a short glossary, a timeline, references and the standard disclaimer. (My basic opinion on Paris, written in February, is here).

You can read it/download it/share it as a pdf here.

Would be interested in any non-denialist comments.  (At this stage, if you can’t see that climate change is happening – and faster than many scientists have thought – then you are very very wilfully blind. That’s sad, but it’s not my job to help you).

And here’s a fab set of additional Q and As a good friend just sent me

How long is this going to take to read?
No more than five minutes.

I’ve got to take the kids to drama school and get the grouting done, why should I put that off?
Because it’s still at least marginally possible that the future of human civilisation is at stake. You want the little ones doing Lear on a really authentic blasted heath? Your call.

Will it save the world if I read it?
No, but you’ll know a bit more about possibly the most important topic in human history. So if you’re the sort of person who likes to know stuff…

I’m on this blog, aren’t I?
Fair enough. Carry on…

Learning Curve: Australia and the International Climate Negotiations, a 25 Year Overview, Focusing on the Here and Now.

Marc Hudson
23rd November

What’s up?
Another big international climate conference at which world leaders are going to “Save The World” from excess carbon dioxide.

Again?! How many is that now?
This is going to be the 21st annual “Conference of the Parties” to the United Nations Climate Change Convention. The first was in Berlin in 1995, chaired by a somewhat younger Angela Merkel. But there were a bunch of meetings before that, and there have been other meetings in between of course, and plenty of other forums in which the issue has been discussed.

Yeah yeah. This one’s in Paris, right?
Yep, it’s deja vu all over again. Way back in 1989 the G7 meeting was in Paris, and there were a series of heart-warming words about global warming, and pleasing Parisian promises of imminent action were made. Plus ca change, as my phrase book says.

Can you recap the last 30 years, “tres rapidment” as my phrasebook says. Oh, and as soon as you use a three or four letter acronym or some jargon, you know I’m gonna poke your eyes out with this pointy stick, right?
Aah, okay, that’s peer review! So, briefly – since 1988 the world’s nations have been paying attention to climate change. It had taken the scientists thirty years to get their attention. After some wrangling they made a deal in Rio in 1992. It said that the rich countries had started the mess and so should start with the reduction of emissions first. Poor countries were basically saying “we should be allowed to develop.”

Sounds like some nice words. Was this Rio deal strong? Weak? What? Did it have any targets?
Kind of weak. It had no targets or timetables, because the Americans said they wouldn’t be flying down to Rio if there were. The Europeans blinked and the deal was signed.

So what next?
By 1995 the cracks were showing. Various business groupings had succeeded in weakening momentum for action. Everyone had other things on their plate. In 1997, at Kyoto, the rich countries ‘agreed’ to start, but at a much lower level of cutting emissions than the scientists were saying necessary to avoid mayhem. And after that meeting, well, the USA and Australia walked away, saying poor countries should be cutting their emissions too, despite what they had signed in Rio and Berlin.

And since then?
Oh, I could go on all day.

Please don’t
Short version; The same arguments in different cities. Milan, Montreal, Bali, Copenhagen, Warsaw. Whose fault it is, who should start cutting when by how much, who should pay who for what. Mostly it’s rich countries beating up on poor countries. It’s like Groundhog Day, except a version in which Bill Murray never ever learns a damn thing. And as the damage from climate change increases, vulnerable countries are demanding money to help them adapt. So rich countries are giving them some.

That sounds generous.
Well, they mostly give less than they promise. And they mostly just take money out of the aid budget and re-label it climate adaptation. Which the poor countries tend to notice, not being stupid.

So there are trust issues?

I’ll take that as a yes. So, let’s back up a bit. I am a leeetle puzzled. I read somewhere that Australia had become the world’s biggest exporter of coal in 1984, and that coal exports even then were pretty damn serious as a foreign-currency earner/balance of payments and all that.
That’s about right, though it’s never been a huge employer or percentage of GDP.

Yeah, shut up you greenie hippy, I’m asking the questions here. And my next one is why did it even agree to sign up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the first place?
Middle power politics.

Gee, thanks, that helps so much.
As Dave Cox (1997) says:
When states lack the power and resources to unilaterally influence international relations, multilateralism permits a ‘seat at the table’ where it is hoped some influence can be exerted.”

So if you’re not a big big beast or a complete irrelevance, your best bet is to hook up with other middle countries and together you’ll be able to get most of what you each want?
Bravo! And to quote a former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, writing in 1990 on the subject of rising sea levels and potential environmental refugees who would want to come to Australia, then Australia would need to “promote universal adherence to [international environment] conventions already negotiated and… develop new framework conventions on the protection of the atmosphere and the environment.” (cited in Cox, 1997)

And we did that?
You’ve been asleep for twenty years? We strong-armed an increase in our emissions at Kyoto, and forced them to let us include land-clearing. We then refused to ratify Kyoto because it wasn’t in our quote national interest unquote. Then, when Kyoto finally came into play in 2005, we tried with the Americans to get a spoiler organisation off the ground. After the Rudd-Gillard thing, Abbott then didn’t even send a minister to the 2013 negotiations. It’s been really classy.

But I don’t remember us getting bombed or trade-sanctioned. Australia got away with it!
Maybe, maybe not. A top diplomat co-wrote a very good piece “Australia and climate change negotiations at the table, or on the menu?” (Bamsey and Rowley, 2015) earlier this year. On page seven there’s this;

When, in June 2002, the Howard Government announced that Australia would not be ratifying the Kyoto Protocol most other governments were unhappy with the news, and some appeared to be deeply offended. In subtle ways some of that group may have paid back Australia for the perceived offence on other issues, often well beyond the sustainable development domain. These instances are difficult to evidence because most often linkages were not formally made (unsurprisingly, given the nature of diplomacy). But the authors are aware of occasions on which otherwise friendly governments inexplicably declined to agree to Australian requests. Sometimes no feedback at all was provided, sometimes an eyebrow was raised, and sometimes elliptical references to the Kyoto Protocol were made informally.”

I’m sure we can live with raised eyebrows. And anyway, Australia met its Kyoto obligations, which is more than you can say of the USA or Canada.
As you will be told by the business press and lukewarmists repeatedly. What they mysteriously never have space, time or inclination to tell you is that Australia had wangled an increase in emissions and a “land use” get-out clause, and that it was, in the words of Clive Hamilton (2015) “a three inch putt rather than a hole in one.”

So moving on Tony Abbott wasn’t the world’s biggest worrier about climate change. What did that mean for Australia’s negotiating position?
Oh, I could go on all day.

Please don’t
He was a thug who couldn’t represent Australia’s interests properly, even those of the fossil fuel lobby.. At the first UNFCCC negotiations with him in charge, the December 2013 ones, as I said, he didn’t even send a minister. They were all too busy on climate action at home.

What action was that?
Abolishing the piss-weak climate tax that the Labor lot had gotten onto the statute books. As for the December 2014 UNFCCC discussions, held in Lima, Peru, well, let’s quote Climate Action Network –

This year’s Fossil of the Year Award, goes to Australia ….. From the get-go Australia signalled they were not coming here to make progress towards a comprehensive international climate agreement.… when they sent a climate sceptic Trade Minister Andrew Robb along to “chaperone” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop into a negotiating dead-end…. Shape up Australia, you are making Canada look good!”

Look, there’s plenty of other vandalism, in CHOGM, in OECD…. Aaaargh. Holy cow, you maniac, you just poked me with that stick. Holy crap, I’m bleeding.

So, Uncle History*, that was sooooo fascinating, but what are the issues on the table in Paris, that Australia might be particularly involved in?
Well, there will be some thorny issues for the Aussies. Their reduction target – I was going to say INDC but you have a stick in your hand, is on the low side, and there is no way on God’s no-longer-very-green earth that the ‘Direct Action’ scheme currently in place is plausible. Malcolm Turnbull said this back in December 2009, after Tony Abbott had knifed him. “Abbott’s climate policy is bullshit” (Turnbull, 2009)
Malcolm is going to Paris with that self same policy. The deal he made to become prime minister instead of Tony seems to include “no change on gay marriage and no change on climate.”

The major issues are the size of the cuts and who is going to pay for it all to happen (See Bateman and Packham, 2015.) Australia will be keen to avoid too much close scrutiny of its actual emissions, and of its coal exports.

And when does all this happen? Who does what when?
The conference runs from 30 November – 11 December (Don’t be surprised if it runs over, they often do). Malcolm Turnbull will be there for the opening day, but the French want to avoid the Copenhagen debacle, so the photo-op is at the start not the end. Then the environment minister Greg Hunt will be there, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for the second week.

There’s an interesting website called Reneweconomy. One of their writers, Sophie Vorrath noted that Labor’s shadow environment minister was accusing Turnbull’s government of being all “smooth words and warm handshakes” but with “no change what so ever in the substance.”
Julie Bishop has confirmed that there is nothing new on the table for this vital Paris meeting, no strengthening of the emissions target, no additional contributions to the Green Climate Fund, just the same Tony Abbott plan.
Vorrath points out that the shadow minister doesn’t mention coal, and Australia’s coal exports…

Look, you seem to be pulling some sort of “we’re doomed, we’re doomed” thing. It can’t be as bad as all that. Our lords and masters are smart and responsible people, who would never kick the can down the road in the manner you imply Do you have any more credible sources that have a perspective on Paris?
You mean like the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a public policy research institute that has been around since the late 80s?

Yeah, they’ll do. What do THEY have to say about the prospects for Paris?
Well, they publish detailed and respected daily reports of all the climate negotiations, and have done so for ever, basically. And they do summaries of each set of talks, in multiple languages. And after the last set of negotiations, in Bonn, in October, they did a summary that – in part – reads like this.

Almost no time at ADP 2-11 was spent addressing the decision text necessary to flesh out the hoped-for concise agreement. The Paris package is meant to constitute of both agreement and decision text. Some had hoped for a virtuous cycle in which the details on the “how” would be captured in decision text, thus allowing the agreement only to focus on the “what,” with parties able to make compromises within the agreement text, once assurances on how issues were being dealt with in the decision text were elaborated. Instead, at ADP 2-11 a vicious cycle continued to inhibit progress, as parties were loath to remove anything from the agreement without knowing what would be in the decision text, but also found it difficult to work on decisions without knowing what would be in the agreement.

Don’t get me wrong, there will probably be SOME sort of basic ‘agreement’. Piss-weak, no enforcement, nothing serious though. It will be an agreement to keep on meeting. What matters- what has mattered for decades – is what people in rich countries do in their own towns and cities. Are they preparing to challenge corporate spin, to force politicians and bureaucrats to make real promises, and then keeping involved so the promises can’t be rolled over, ignored or weakened?

But what you’re saying really doesn’t sit within the mainstream, does it?
You’re quite right. As my friend, Professor Chris Wright of the University of Sydney just observed

the mainstream media here in Oz are still in the ‘CC is a hoax/not happening’ mode (Murdoch press) or ‘there’s hope, the world is changing’ mode (Fairfax/Guardian). No one is willing to look into the abyss and contemplate the end of the party! For an example of the ‘there’s hope’ line this latest one from ABC identifies the usual suspects (Jeffrey Sachs/CSIRO etc) they even cite CCS!: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-20/steketee-paris-climate-summit-there%27s-grounds-for-optimism/6956944”

Sigh. Anything else I need to know?
Yeah, the species has almost certainly left it too late to do anything about climate change. Yes, there’ll be some wind farms, but pretty soon we will panic and reach for the geo-engineering. You’d be well advised to take one or both of the following courses of action: 1) stockpile shotgun ammo and baked beans in a sick survivalist psychodrama 2) as per Banks et al. (1995) “dance and drink and screw, because there’s nothing else to do.”


1985 A scientific meeting in Villach, Austria with many experts, some of who’d been working on climate since the 1950s, realises it that once you properly factor the non-carbon dioxide gases, climate is a problem for the here and now. They start knocking hard on the Big Boys’ doors, and because they have Ozone-Hole credibility, they’re sort of listened to.

1988 A conference on “The Changing Atmosphere”, held in Toronto just after the G7 summit, is the first climate conference at which heads of state (Canada and Norway) appear. Australian scientists attend.

1990 Australia agrees to a domestic reduction target of 20% below 1990 levels by 2005.

1992 Australia signs the “UNFCCC” treaty, and ratifies it. Its domestic “National Greenhouse Response Strategy” is made up of only voluntary actions.

1995 Australia resists emissions cuts for developed nations (especially itself) and, in contradiction of the CBDR agreement it made just three years earlier, wants developing nations to agree to emissions reductions targets. At the end of the year it releases a report based on economic modelling paid for by the fossil fuel industry that ‘proves’ it would be unfairly penalised by agreeing to cuts.

1997 Australia extracts an emissions increase as its Kyoto target, and a special clause for ‘reducing’ its land-clearing (which it was doing anyway). The following year, Australia signs the Kyoto protocol. Big fossil business begins to lobby against ratification…

2001 New President George W. Bush announces that the US will not ratify Kyoto.

2002 Australian Prime Minister John Howard announces, on World Environment Day, that Australia will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol because it is not in the national interest (as defined by him)

2005 The Kyoto Protocol finally comes into force, once Russia ratifies. The USA and Australia cook up the “Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate”. The Australian Environment Minister accidentally admits it is an ‘alternative’ to Kyoto. It dies on the vine when US Congress cuts off its money.

2007 New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (symbolically) ratifies the Kyoto Protocol and gets a two minute ovation at the Bali Climate Meeting. A two-year timetable is set of the …

2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, with sky-high hopes (if not expectations) and, in the final analysis, rock-bottom results. Rudd’s climate dreams, already rocked by the second defeat of his “Continue Polluting Regardless Scheme” (subs, please check this) evaporate.

2011 At the Durban meeting of the UNFCCC they all agree to keep talking and at the end of 2015 make an agreement to start doing something by 2020. #senseofurgency

2013 Australia doesn’t even send a minister to the Warsaw Climate Conference.

2014 In October Australia hosts the G20 in Brisbane. Among many other embarrassments, Abbott’s efforts to keep climate off the agenda end in farce when Obama and the Chinese simply ignore him.


Common but Differentiated Responsibilities – A term loose enough in meaning that the people at Rio could agree it. A Rorschach inkblot it lets developing countries think “The rich guys have promised to make deep cuts before we have to do anything” and the developed countries say “well, it’s been twenty years, so the poor are going to have to stay poor.”

CHOGM Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Remnant of British Empire. Meets every two years, so that Australia can act like a dismissive thug.

CPRS Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Went tits up repeatedly, took Rudd’s credibility with it.

Kyoto Protocol – 1997 agreement that rich countries would cut their emissions by various small amounts that were much less than the scientists said was necessary. After the USA walked away, Australia did too, despite having wangled an increase as its reduction target. The deal came into force in 2005, with Russian ratification, but is now essentially a zombie process. See “Veil of Kyoto”

Middle Power – not a superpower, not a minnow. In combination with other middle powers, can bend things in their own interests, a bit.

OECD – Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development. Rich countries club, now with 34 members, set up in 1961. A sometimes useful talking shop and rule-maker.

Uncle History One of my nieces calls me this. True story.

Veil of Kyoto – Term of two English academics who argued in 2010 that

“‘Kyoto’ has created a veil over the climate issue in Australia in a number of ways. Firstly, its symbolic power has distracted attention from actual environmental outcomes while its accounting rules obscure the real level of carbon emissions and structural trends at the nation-state level. Secondly, a public policy tendency to commit to far off emission targets as a compromise to implementing legislation in the short term has also emerged on the back of Kyoto-style targets. Thirdly, Kyoto’s international flexibility mechanisms can lead to the diversion of mitigation investment away from the nation-state implementing carbon legislation. A final concern of the Kyoto approach is how it has shifted focus away from Australia as the world’s largest coal exporter towards China, its primary customer. While we recognise the crucial role aspirational targets and timetables play in capturing the imagination and coordinating action across nations, our central theme is that ‘Kyoto’ has overshadowed the implementation of other policies in Australia.”

References and Further Reading

Bamsey, H. and Rowley, K. 2015. Australia and Climate Change Negotiations: At the Table, or On the Menu? Lowy Institute, March.


Banks, N., Cocker, J. Doyle, C, Mackey, S. and Senior, R. 1995. Common People. Pulp. Different Class. [CD]. London: Island.

Bateman, B. and Packham. A. 2015. COP21: The road to Paris (via Bonn) Clayton Utz, 29 October.


Climate Action Network, 2014. Australia gets another OI, to its OI OI OI with 4th Fossil of the Day Award (4 out of 10, ouch) Climate Action Network International, 11 December.


Cox, D. 1997. The road from Rio: multilateral cooperation gives way to national interest. In Leaver, R. and Cox, D. (eds) Middling, meddling, Muddling, Issues in Australian Foreign Policy. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Hamilton, C. 2015. Australia hit its Kyoto target but it was more a three inch putt than a hole in one. The Conversation, 16 July.


Haworth, N. and Foxall, A. 2010. The Veil of Kyoto and the politics of greenhouse gas mitigation in Australia. Political Geography, Vol. 29, (3), pp.167-176.

IISD, 2015. Earth Negotiations Bulletin ADP2-11 Final, Summary of the Bonn Climate Change Conference: 19-23 October 2015.


Turnbull, M. 2009. Abbott’s Climate Change Policy is Bullshit. Sydney Morning Herald, 7th December. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/abbotts-climate-change-policy-is-bullshit-20091206-kdmb.html

Vorrath, S. 2015. Heat on Turnbull ahead of OECD talks on coal subsidy cuts. Renew Economy, 11 November.


Thanks to: Loukas, Joe, Chris. All errors remain mine.


Marc Hudson, besides trying to extract himself from editing “Manchester Climate Monthly,” is a second year PhD candidate at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, studying how come and how coal is still in the game almost thirty years after climate scientists and some ‘issue entrepreneur’ activists, bureaucrats and politicians managed to wake everyone up to the threat of anthropogenic global warming. The views, snark and glibness contained herein are entirely his own, and in no way represent the official position of the SCI, the University of Manchester or anyone else, obvs.

Future “Learning Curve” briefings will appear on – (Australian) divestment, peak bodies & umbrella groups, carbon capture and storage, local coal conflicts, denialism, the coal industry’s recent trajectory.

He can be contacted via @marcsrhudson or on his email marcmywords [at] gmail.com

The Prospects for Paris – not good. #climate #debacle

The “Earth Negotiations Bulletin,” the best summary of the climate talks, has this (in part) to say about the last official meeting before the up-coming Paris talks;

“Leaving [the last UNFCCC meeting before the Paris conference, held in October in Bonn], many delegates concurred with Laurence Tubiana, who spoke for the incoming COP 21 Presidency, that the text produced at this session was far from what parties had hoped to have in their hands ahead of negotiations in Paris. …

“Almost no time at ADP 2-11 was spent addressing the decision text necessary to flesh out the hoped-for concise agreement. The Paris package is meant to constitute of both agreement and decision text. Some had hoped for a virtuous cycle in which the details on the “how” would be captured in decision text, thus allowing the agreement only to focus on the “what,” with parties able to make compromises within the agreement text, once assurances on how issues were being dealt with in the decision text were elaborated. Instead, at ADP 2-11 a vicious cycle continued to inhibit progress, as parties were loath to remove anything from the agreement without knowing what would be in the decision text, but also found it difficult to work on decisions without knowing what would be in the agreement. ….

“Reporting that Hurricane Patricia was about to hit its coastline with unprecedented strength, Mexico, described the government’s desperate work to move coastal populations out of harm and made an emotional appeal for all parties to set aside their differences and focus on the work ahead. While delegates expressed solidarity with the affected populations, many in the room reflected on the increasing chasm between the international climate policy-making process and the mounting real-world impacts of a changing climate.”

I find it hard to believe that Paris could be as big a catastrophe as Copenhagen 2009 (it’s all relative of course – the battle to save our species from the unintended consequences of its own ingenuity was already lost by May 1992, when the Europecat_seen_the_endans couldn’t get a domestic carbon tax through thanks to massive opposition from industry, and when/so they blinked at the American threat to snub the Rio Earth Summit if there were targets and timetables in the proposed climate treaty. Everything since then – Kyoto, the Hague, Montreal, Copenhagen, Durban – has been a series of yelps as the species plummets towards an unforgiving earth, its parachutes shredded by the scissors of vested interests and inertia.)

But catastrophe-wise, Paris MIGHT be. Holy cow we are as dumb as a rock.

Coping with Copenhagen, Parrying Paris etc

So, the climate activists are a bit stuck, now that the French state has said ‘non’ to their planned “manifestations” at the next climate talks.

“We respect the decision of the state, but we are trying to find ways to keep on mobilizing and taking the streets in one way or another during the COP in Paris, in order to make sure that we have an impact on the negotiations and contributing to our movement,” Nicolas Haeringer, campaigner for 350.org in France, told ThinkProgress.

While it’s currently unclear what form those activities might take — Haeringer suggested something as simple as banging pots at a particular time each day during the talks — organizers expect to release concrete details within the day. (emphasis added) source

I am not making this up.

Is it really only six years since the Copenhagen debacle?  It feels simultaneously like the day before yesterday and a thousand years ago. Have we learnt so little? Or do we just have so few tools in our tool box?

We COULD have “mobilised” for Copenhagen differently.  We could have organised rolling actions at a national level on key themes (adaptation, agriculture, aviation) with creative non-violent direct actions and less-arrestable stuff for others, throughout the two weeks of that horror-show.  But instead all the NGOs spent all year trying to get people to go on the most epically stupid march of all time. And the so-called radicals, who had been heard as recently as three years before that abjuring the hopping of summits? They went summit hopping, biensur.

And in the intervening six years, we’ve learnt nothing, it seems.  Looking for something else on my hard drive, I stumbled across something I wrote a couple of months before Copenhagen, after I’d spent months being told that it was wrong to treat adults like adults (telling them that Copenhagen would be inadequate/a failure) because this would discourage them from going on the march, and the march was The Most Important Thing Ever.  This came from people who think they should be listened to on the subject of strategy and movement-building.  But who are STILL encouraging people to go on this march in November, and had NOTHING to say in their 10 minute nonsense recently about the failures of the movement and what could be learned.  FFS.

Here it is.

Copen-bloody-hagen and the Rorschach test

Climate Change is the easiest and hardest thing in the world to campaign about.

On the easy side; what greater motivation than the ‘end of the world’ and the destruction of the current wealth and future prospects of every man woman and child on the planet?

At first glance, there’s all you need for a successful campaign;

  • global fairness poverty/development/injustice, check
  • animals and rainforests threatened, check
  • human rights threatened, check
  • jobs threatened, check
  • prospect of increasing militarisation and war, check

But if it were that simple, there’d be marches of 500,000 every single month, not an annual march that will be considered a massive success if it gets 50,000 this year.

Climate change is the hardest damn thing to campaign on because (and this list is not complete);

  • it is happening slowly (picking up speed nicely, but still distant),

  • it’s happening in far-off countries of which we know little,

  • it’s all a bit too scientifical

  • it’s hard to square the ‘save the planet’ and ‘keep growing the pie, only distribute it more fairly’ rhetoric of most of capitalism’s opponents.

  • Potential campaigners feel guilty over the impacts of their lifestyles, and reluctant to give up some of the things they have come to enjoy (meat every day, flying, the treadmill of consumption that gives them part of their identity)

So it gets thrown – by both individuals and campaigning groups – into the “too big” basket, and people hide behind (mostly manufactured) uncertainty or other forms of denial.1

This year, 21 years after the birth of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (www.ipcc.ch), climaxes with the spectacle of a huge international conference in Copenhagen, running from December 7 to December 18. The idea is that the world leaders who attend will sign a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally-binding international Climate Change agreement.

In order to pressure the UK Government and to Show We Care, a march has been called for Saturday December 5th in London, with another march taking place in Copenhagen on December 12th.

This article tries to sketch some recent history, look at the motivations of the participants and the likely outcomes, and suggest other ways forward and beyond. It’ll probably fail in most people’s eyes to do these things adequately, but as the liberals always say, ‘if it Sparks a Debate, then that’s a Good Thing.’

History lessens

Cast your minds all the way back to the distant days of 2006. North Korea exploded its first nuke, Google bought Youtube and Leona Lewis had a Christmas number one with “A Moment like this.”

August saw was the very first Climate Camp, at Drax power station.(www.climatecamp.org.uk)

The end of the year saw march of ten thousand or so from the US Embassy (back when you could use the US Prez as a pantomime hate figure) to meet a similar number of people rallying in Trafalgar Square, under the joint auspices of Campaign against Climate Change (www.campaigncc.org, hereafter “CaCC” and the “Stop Climate Chaos” coalition. (www.stopclimatechaos.org)

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, as did the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. The following February the IPCC’s fourth assessment report announced what anyone with a brain knew already- we were in deep shit. (And that report, was, within a year, widely acknowledged as an underestimate of the precise depth of the shit2).

Suddenly, you could barely move but for climate change stories in the paper and on the idiot box, conferences and gatherings and everyone was green. Salvation was surely at hand.

Then what?
CaCC seems to have thought you could grow a movement by having the usual petitions, marches and an annual conference in London.

SCC basically disappeared off the national radar for two years

Climate Camp just kept on doing what it wanted- an annual camp at Heathrow and then Kingsnorth, never (it seems) pausing to think if it was achieving its stated goals, or merely providing opportunities for people to sit in a field surrounded by cops, take drugs, fuck strangers and proclaim that this was the eco-revolution.

And here we are in 2009.

Campaign against Climate Change, despite saying this was the Big Year for climate change (the author’s capitals, but CaCC’s sentiments) did not hold its annual conference this year, and is devoting more/most of its energy to its trades union activity.

Climate Camp, wrong-footed by the government over clean coal/carbon capture and storage, has not done its promised rolling campaign against new power stations. Instead it is having its fourth annual Climate Camp, this time in London. Given the Campers’ tactical nous, and the fact that the Metropolitan police are severely on the back foot after their thuggery was exposed at the G20 protests, it would be a foolish punter who bet against them pulling off something audacious. (What’s the rent on some marquees in Pall Mall; ‘Pass go, collect 200 campers and go nowhere near jail’?) Climate Camp is also talking about going off to Copenhagen to protest/demonstrate/shut down/meet new fuck-buddies.

Stop Climate Chaos, now a much wider (but no deeper?) coalition than it was in 2006, is organising a London march on Saturday December 5th, where everyone is to wear blue and therefore be part of “The Wave.” (www.stopclimatechaos.org/the-wave)

I doubt, if you talked to “key individuals” in each of these groups, that any of them is very happy with the slow slow progress – or actual regress- there has been since 2006. [Then again, I also doubt there has been soul-searching and effective post-morteming of why things haven’t gone according to hopes, but that’s another story.]

So much spilled ink!

The Copenhagen conference looms before everyone and is a useful “Rorschach test,” (those ink-blot tests that psychiatrists use, in which everyone allegedly sees what their underlying ‘personality’ wants/needs them to see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test)

For the liberals (most of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition)

The march will be a measure of success, a useful focus of “lowest common denominator” action to get the coalition moving again. Some members of the coalition, believe it or not, are uncomfortable even with something as dangerous and activist-y as a march. So, for SCC, this is a brand relaunch after a couple of years in the doldrums.

The revolutionary socialists (primarily Campaign against Climate Change, now a tattered front for the SWP, with various lip-biting socialists from other sects)

They love marches. For some reason the author has never fathomed, marches give them goose-bumps. Perhaps they squint really hard and see it as a prelude to them storming the Winter Palace. And of course, it’s in their comfort zone, they can spend energy and time booking coaches, selling tickets. Once folks are on the bus and at the march, it’s a chance to sell papers, and for their leaders to make rousing speeches. Job’s a good ‘un…

There will also be, presumably, some (well-hidden?) residual resentment that the liberals are coming in and hijacking ‘their’ march, and so they’ll throw themselves into it in order to keep/claim the moral high-ground afterwards

The NVDA /non-hierarchical crowd

Some will go on the march, but for those who also go to Copenhagen, they get to relive (or live for the first time) the glory days of June 1999 to August 2001, when each summit hop was bigger than the last, when we thought we were everywhere, and we could even plausibly claim that we were winning.

And for the author of this piece? Well, obviously he gets to indulge his intellectual arrogance and patented exasperation, before rolling over a few times in fragrant pool of doom and gloom.


How “it” will probably play out


It’s not clear if the standard guesstimate technique of numbers will be accurate (find out the police estimate and double it, find out the organisers estimate and halve it- there’s your likely range), because the police have recently started giving high estimates, presumably to justify their overtime claims. But frankly, who cares? I don’t give a monkey’s if it is 10 thousand or 60,000 (the outlying numbers in both directions, I’d say) because marches – the organising of and participating in- are horrendous ways of building a mass movement. If they worked, we wouldn’t be in this horrible mess. There is a basic confusion – among liberals, socialists and the nvda crowd – over the difference between mobilising and movement building.)

This march will have big numbers only if Londoners come out to support it. If it rains on the day, then all the free/cheap coaches from the provinces will not make a difference. Those coming from Brizzle, Sheffield, Manchester will largely come regardless- they’ve “invested” already. It’s the Londoners looking out their window in Walthamstow on the Saturday, who only have to swipe an Oyster Card (or not), who’ll give the numbers or not.

The marches and protests


They’ll be spinning the numbers upwards, and blaming the weather if the turn out is lower than hoped for. They’ll make sure to get their best and most telegenic speakers giving upbeat soundbites to the Beeb and Channel 4, and they’ll be twittering and facebooking and flickring about what a great and inspiring thing it was for days afterwards.


They’ll release an estimate of the numbers on the march even higher than the SCC estimate, and claim the credit for getting so many people out on the streets. Then they will, um… Denounce somebody for being the main blocker of a stronger deal. Probably the Americans (and probably rightly).

Climate Camp- some will make the trip to Copenhagen, on one or another form of zero clue caravan. They’ll meet up with old friends from various G8 and IMF/WB summits, and there’ll be a pitched battle or two with the EU’s finest. These will involve colour-coding, clever tactics and zero strategy. There will be ritual denunciations by the NGOs about the violence, and counter-denunciations about reformist sellouts.

There’ll be “lovely pictures” and war-stories, and websites will spring up, extolling the virtues of the Climate Resistance of Autonomous People. The author thinks its unlikely to be a replay of Prague or Genoa-

Firstly because the UK “movement” doesn’t seem as strong as it was all those years ago. The trees of Newbury etc are now a very distant memory, (and indeed a folk memory for many). In addition, the “are we actually wanting to shut this thing down?”question hasn’t been successfully grappled with, an answer merely fudged.

Secondly because the Danish police will have been role-playing a whole lot of scenarios, including Prague and Genoa. That said, given the experience, courage and tactical nous of the NVDA crowd, it would be a foolish punter who bet against them pulling off something audacious without getting good odds from the bookie.

The actual conference

There are, philosophically speaking, three possible outcomes;

A scientifically adequate deal to meet the challenges, an inadequate deal (on a sliding scale of shittiness) or no deal/delayed deal.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there’ll be a collective waking up, and the science will drive the conference, and we will get the 40% cuts by 2020 that are needed, peaking in the next 2 years or so, and the huge amounts of money needed for adaptation and resilience for both the minority and majority world will start flowing, and the developing countries will change their tune and come on board for imminent emissions reductions of their own. But that’s looking kinda unlikely. And the deal- whatever it is- is going to rely on huge amounts of carbon trading and dodgy accountancy about where emissions are consumed and produced (e.g. While the UK’s produced emissions have declined a bit, its consumed emissions have soared.3)

So what we will see instead is some variety of inadequate deal, ranging from fairly inadequate through to mind-numbingly, wrist-slashingly inadequate. (We’ll come to the “no deal at all” option later)

The inevitable spin cycle

But it won’t be in the interests of either those who sign it or those who urged them to sign it, to get too honest about the actual scale of inadequacy.

The governments are hardly going to turn around and slag the deal off, because their oppositions will just say “well why did you bloody sign it then? Why are we making sacrifices that aren’t worth it, eh? Why didn’t you hold out for the rich/poor/white/brown/yellow (delete as appropriate) so-and-sos to commit to more?”

The NGOs (I think here FOE, Oxfam etc) will not be too hard on the deal, beyond expressing understanding disappointment/ resigned realism because;

a) they don’t want to piss off the governments too much- there are long term relationships at stake here, after all.

b) they have to be able to sell Copenhagen – and their lobbying – to their constituents as a success. Never forget, these NGOs need direct debits and donations in order to survive, and keep doing the (largely good) work that they are doing. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact of life.

And of course, both governments and NGOs will be looking at the struggle for ratification through national parliaments. It took Kyoto, far less ambitious, 8 years to get signed off by enough countries….

The revolutionary socialists and the NVDA crowd are in the “happy” position of not really needing to paint the Copenhagen conference as a success. Their constituencies are already predisposed (and the author agrees with them) to see this as a giant stitch-up where the rich will screw the poor, the present will say “to hell with the future” and the ecosystems of the world will continue to get exploited in imaginative and suicidal ways. “Success” around Copenhagen for these groups, the author contends, is going to be more to do with maintaining their own oppositional ncihes and their view of themselves as the people not fooled, the pure outsiders who the world has ignored. And a chance to sell papers or screw strangers, naturally.
Taking the bis?

There is a chance, I can’t really say how big, of the whole thing NOT coming to a deal, and a Bali Action Plan with bells and whistles on it being announced, with a follow-up meeting (known as a “bis” meeting) happening 6 months down the line. Which would be curiously deflating…

The dangers

A vast proportion of energy will go into getting 10 to 60,000 people tramping through London

At which point everyone thinks, hmm, that’s about a 50th of the number that marched on February 15th 2003 and THAT didn’t work. Is this all the people who give a damn…Christ, I feel more alone than I did before… And at the same time, some/many participants will think “I’ve done my bit, I’ve shown I care, now it’s up to my elected representatives to do their bit.”

Then, when Copenhagen is not an unalloyed success, this sort of thing will be going through people’s heads;

Hmm, Copenhagen wasn’t a success. My organisation strongly implied that it could be. Either

a) they were unduly optimistic, in which case, I don’t trust their judgement as much as I used to or

b) they knew the likelihood of a good outcome was low, but chose to keep that information from me, so I would go on their march. That isn’t very honourable. In fact, it is bloody patronising, and I am not sure I trust them anymore…”


In fluid dynamics, an eddy is the swirling of a fluid and the reverse current created when the fluid flows past an obstacle. The moving fluid creates a space devoid of downstream-flowing fluid on the downstream side of the object. Fluid behind the obstacle flows into the void creating a swirl of fluid on each edge of the obstacle, followed by a short reverse flow of fluid behind the obstacle flowing upstream, toward the back of the obstacle. This phenomenon is most visible behind large emergent rocks in swift-flowing rivers.

Another possible type of turbulence is the vortex. This notion is now applied to gases, which have the same properties as liquids. Here, no void is created, but only an area of lower pressure, but again, a backflow causes the gas to rotate.


If the liberals don’t prepare people for the reality- that the likelihood is a weak deal or no deal – then they will have to spin whatever emerges as a “success” to justify their own stated optimism, so as not to demoralise their supporters. This spinning will take time and energy, and always comes at the cost of credibility.

The obvious questions, that (maybe) only an outsider without responsibilities and a wage reliant on one of the organisations can ask, are

  • Why not be radical and tell potential participants the truth?

  • Do we think people can’t handle the truth?

  • Won’t telling the truth leave us in a more credible position for dealing with the realities of 2010 and 2011?

    Why not say “this is too important to be left to politicians, whether they are local or national or global. There are things we can do, here and now, to prepare for climate change and help developing countries. These things are fun to do. They are happening before Copenhagen, and they’ll be happening after Copenhagen.”

What could (still) be done

To hell with the wave- we need a hundred thousand eddies. Rather than crashing against the wall-like indifference of the British public in one spasm of splashy showing blueness, we need constant, smaller eddies that disturb the regular flow, and turn things around and around and around. People making waves in their workplaces, places of worship, on their streets, in the chambers of commerce and the chambers of their local council. Eddies that are turbulent, mix things, creating connections and interactions that wouldn’t otherwise be happening.

If the planning for the Wave explicitly, persistently and imaginatively creates the conditions for these eddies to come into existence locally before December 5th, and works out how to celebrate and support them afterwards, then it won’t have been completely wasted time and energy.

Further reading

“Beyond Copenhagen” piece, June 2008


On the limits of NGOs, and Umbrella Groups


Alex Evans and David Steven



Climate Activists in Denial

Financial Times Monday 27 July

Gideon Rachman



1On denial, check out George Marshall’s blog http://climatedenial.org/ and also the excellent World Bank-sponsored study Cognitive and Behavioural Challenges in Responding to Climate Change by Kari Marie Norgaard http://tinyurl.com/mp3vso

2Especially on ice-sheets and sea-level rise. For links, consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_IPCC_AR4#AR4_understates_the_danger_of_climate_change

3Dieter Helm’s Tanner lecture 2009 is worth a read. http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk/…/TANNER%20LECTURE%20Feb09.pdf See the Guardian’s report here- http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/23/china-carbon-emissions