Category Archives: our doomedness

“After sustainability” – good questions…

So, if there were a functioning climate movement in Manchester, it would, imho, be answering some of the questions in bold (scroll down if you want to see them). But there isn’t. Ho-hum, #gladtobe45andchildfree.


Global Discourse special issue: ‘After sustainability – what?’
Call for Papers

Guest editor:
John Foster (

It is no longer completely out of court among thinkers and scholars concerned with environmental issues to argue that the ‘sustainability’ discourse and policy paradigm have failed, and that we are moving into a new era of much bleaker prospects. A recent Policy Review paper in the journal Society and Natural Resources (Benson and Craig, 2014) is bluntly entitled ‘The End of Sustainability’. Authors as diverse as Clive Hamilton (2010), Tim Mulgan (2011), Dale Jamieson (2014) and John Foster (2015) write with the working assumption that climate change, on a scale lying unpredictably between the seriously disruptive and the catastrophic, is no longer something we must find ways of avoiding, but something we are going to have to live with. Parallel to this recognition is the rise to prominence of the ‘anthropocene’ trope (e.g. Hamilton et al, 2015) with its defining acceptance that human beings have decisively altered the atmosphere and set in motion a mass extinction as drastic and now inevitable as any produced by Earth-system changes over geological time.

Retrospectively, indeed, we can begin to see how impotent the sustainability model was always going to prove. Constraining immediate needs (or desires) to serve future needs, the anticipation, interpretation and measurement of which were all to be carried out under pressure of the immediate needs and desires supposedly to be constrained, could never have offered anything but a toolkit of lead spanners, capable only of bending helplessly when any serious force was applied. No wonder we continue to find the nuts and bolts of unsustainable living so stubbornly unshiftable.

What is then all the more striking is the complete lack of acknowledgement of this paradigm failure in mainstream political discourse. In the world of the United Nations and other international and national policy fora, less and less promising prospects are met only by a more and more firmly fixed grin of willed optimism. The latest Monitoring Report for the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy, for instance (Eurostat Press Office, 2015), claims that in respect of sustainable consumption and production, demographic changes and greenhouse gas emissions, changes in headline indicators mark changes that are ‘clearly favourable’, although only willed optimism could celebrate the last of these without a glance in the direction of China or India. Meanwhile the upcoming (November-December 2015) UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (the twenty-first of these jamborees since the UN started interesting itself in such matters) is touted, as all its predecessors since Copenhagen 2009 have been touted, as the really last last-chance saloon.

The nearest the official policy world comes to recognition that we actually won’t prevent (above all) unsustainable climate change, is in the increasing volume of talk about ‘mitigation’ rather than prevention. But even here, denial is plainly at work. How do you ‘mitigate’ the unavoidably tragic and disastrous? There is evidently some very serious cognitive disjuncture operating here.

This special issue of Global Discourse will seek to grapple with both the diagnosis and the prognosis of that disjuncture. We call for papers to explore a range of related questions, including:

*Where does widespread denial come from? How will it be overcome?

*What options for political and personal action will remain open in a radically degraded world? What are the conditions of habitability of such a world?

*How will economic and community life, political and social leadership and education be different in such a world?

*What will the geopolitics be? (What might what we now call a refugee ‘crisis’ look like when sub-Saharan Africa becomes uninhabitable? How could we deal with that? What is the role of defence and armaments – including nuclear armaments – in such a world?)

*Are there any grounds for hope that don’t rest on denial?

Benson, M. and Craig, R. (2014) ‘The End of Sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources 27; 777-782 Eurostat Press Office (2015) ‘Is the European Union moving towards sustainable development?’ (News Release 148/2015, 1st September 2015) Foster, J. (2015) After Sustainability (Abingdon: Earthscan from Routledge) Hamilton, C. (2010) Requiem for a Species (London: Earthscan) Hamilton, C. et al. (eds.) (2015) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis (Abingdon: Routledge) Jamieson, D. (2014) Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press) Mulgan, T. (2011) Ethics for a Broken World (Durham: Acumen)

Submission instructions and deadlines
Abstracts of 400 words: 31st December 2015 Articles (solicited on the basis of review of abstracts): 1st May 2016
Publication: Early 2017

Instructions for authors
Please submit all abstracts and articles to the Guest Editor Further details:

Editor contact details: John Foster

Journal Aims and Scope
Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The journal’s scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues. The journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, shorter essays, rapid replies, discussion pieces and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author/s. With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse welcomes submissions from and on any region. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work. With a mix of themed and general issues, symposia are periodically deployed to examine topics as they emerge.

Fetish night at Bruntwood: sustainability gets VERY interesting. #Manchester #climate

Cross posted from here.

Not that kind of fetish (sorry for the clickbaiting). I mean the original, anthropological meaning of “fetish” – a god that we create, then forget that we created as we come to worship it. That kind of fetish was being discussed tonight at the latest and best-I’ve-been-to meeting of the excellent “North West Sustainable Business Quarterly” meeting, held on the 24th story of Bruntwood’s City Tower (#greatviews).

The events are organised by Anthesis, hosted by Bruntwood, with scrumptious vegetarian and vegan food, locally-sourced where possible, by Good Mood Food an offshoot of the charity Manchester Mind. These evenings are free to attend and have lasted where others fell by the wayside simply because they always deliver reasonable-to-brilliant speakers and reasonable-to-brilliant discussion and networking opportunities. Now, back to the fetishes….

A chap called Mark Shayler got us thinking about where the ‘stuff’ in our offices comes from (and what our offices ARE these days, and the shrinking time from waking-to-screen (1), but I’ve digressed enough). He decided to hone in on one thing, that we all have – mobile devices, be they laptops, tablets or mobile phones. And what has made the miniaturization possible? Capacitors (think Random Access Memory, but for electricity). And what do you need to make capacitors? Columbite Tantalite (“Coltan”). And where does the coltan mostly come from? “The Democratic Republic of Congo” (“Zaire” to us fossils). And does the coltan come from nice regulated mines with a unionised workforce and health and safety inspectors? Not so much, no. Think dead gorillas and street kids who are lucky if they are big enough to wield an AK-47, because the other job prospects are even worse. So much I knew. But Shayler then went on to explain that far more than the official 14% of the world’s coltan comes from Congo – neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, for example, export the stuff, without having any mines of their own. Anyway, from there it goes to Japan, for processing, along with coltan from North America and Australia. Then it turns into those capacitors (remember) in Taiwan, and from there goes to China to be put into the circuit boards of all the little devices we now have. And that’s when the transparency of it, such as it is, disappears, along with huge amounts of water that are needed to wash these products. (2) And then it finds its way onto the shelves of the great god “Consumers”, to be used for a year or three, or until it is unfashionable. And then, it sits forgotten in a drawer, or is ‘recycled’, earning the recycler moral absolution, at least in their own minds.

This is standard Global Value Chain/Network analysis (see this blog I did on tuna), but Shayler did it very well.

He talked within this about the perverse incentives within the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling (doing it by weight is not so smart – the Japanese and Chinese do it better, it seems).

He then went on to talk about the huge growth of the Chinese middle-class (hundreds of millions) and the fact that the two things Britain does – design and money (i.e. financial engineering) are both eminently exportable. He made a plea (and yes, you can call it Corbynite social democratic fantasy-land if you like) for a Britain that makes stuff – he reeled of the names and achievements of relatives “now dead, along with the skills they had.”

In his talk he also gave a shout out to a chap who set up a charity called “Falling Whistles”. I defy you to read about that without getting a lump in your thoat.

Shayler closed out his talk with a frank admission that what we’ve been doing in terms of both production and consumption, and attempts to improve it, have been grossly inadequate, and that there are going to have to be some pretty fundamental changes, but that he- like anyone who’s honest- doesn’t have any road maps to get us to the sunny uplands.

Following him was a very very tall order. Somehow Tracey Rawling Church managed it, even when talking about something as ‘mundane’ as the ‘printer zoo’ (of companies with lots of different devices). She is the CSR lead for a business-to-business printer company called Kyocera, which was founded by a Japanese chap who is now a Buddhist monk. They’re moving away from selling the hardware to facilitating the exchange of information, and that’s where most of their revenue comes from these days (a fairly rapid 80/20 reversal in five years). Normally I’d fall asleep with my eyes open (and then snore) if someone used the phrase “servitised document environment”, but I find stories of companies that are big enough to survive, but nimble enough to adapt, quite fascinating (Alcoa under Paul O’Neill, for example). But she also didn’t pretend that a little efficiency nip and tuck here and there is an adequate response to the challenges we face… Then it was over to (a slightly truncated) Q and A before discussions on tables and then networking/schmoozing.

Concepts readers of this blog might like to look into

Compulsory consumption

So, I got soaked cycling home. And the cat was angry with me for deserting it (I’m forgiven now of course). Was it worth it? I went for the food, thinking the talks would be mostly warmed-over ecological modernisation. I got a pleasant surprise tonight. Did both the speakers overrun? Yes. Normally that pisses me off, but the chair wisely let them run, even though it ate into the Q and A. Was it worth the soaking and the feline strop? Bloody hell yes.


  1. Today I was extolling the wonders of “Shut Up and Write” days to my two supervisors. They were both incredulous – ‘Isn’t every day shut up and write day?’ #oldskool #goodpoint

  2. On the subject of water – Saudi Arabia has finally stopped using its fossil aquifers for growing wheat. They might have clocked that’s not the smartest thing to have done, given what’s coming…

Climate change and World War 2 analogy

Someone who went on the climate march didn’t see the organisers taking the coffins away from protesters and calling for police support.

He did however comment “that there were more young faces in the crowd than usual“.

Memories are funny things.  I remembered at that moment my grandfather and one of the recollections he shared with me of his time in the war.  He’d joined the British Army as a ‘boy soldier’ in 1925, then found himself in China in 1929, and Palestine in the mid-late 30s.  He went to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1939.  Then in 1940, as everyone fled to Dunkirk, he missed the boat, literally.  The next two weeks involved getting to ports just after the Germans.  He finally managed, by this time having gathered other soldiers with him, to commandeer a French fishing boat and sail to the UK.  Otherwise he’d have spent five years as a Prisoner of War.

Anyway, the particular thing he told me was that during that two weeks, at one point they encountered a whole bunch of troops sent over from Britain, bright-eyed and eager to engage the enemy.  By this time he’d been a soldier for almost 15 years, and he knew which way was up.  He was dismayed, sad for them and angry with the politicians who could send troops on a pointless exercise that could at very best end with their capture, simply as a gesture to a defeated ally.

And this is the icky bit. I’m not comparing us climate change veterans to soldiers who’ve been shot at (and done some shooting too, of course).  But the dynamic – of the young ones who know no better being keen, while everyone else is weary, seems to apply.

On existentialism, guilt, Godard and … Shell’s corporate framing strategy

Shell has a new advert – another clever and slick one extolling the virtues of burning gas, which, by pure coincidence, they happen to sell. Why now with this? Well, a mere three decades after the scientists started saying “we’re gonna fry ourselves if we don’t get off the fossil fuel habit” we rich white people are finally thinking about talking about at some point in the middle future perhaps getting rid of one of the three fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). And Shell sold its coal assets a while back, so would, along with the gas industry more generally, like to throw coal under the bus. It all came out in the open in June at a gas conference in Paris, the city of lights.

Fwiw, I’ve written here (“Simians, Cyborgs and Shell: Corporate Propaganda and Fall-back positions”) about Shell and its adverts. Slick stuff. This advert is a homage/pastiche/rip-off (take your pick) of Jean-Luc Godard’s stunning 1960 film “A Bout de Souffle” (or “Breathless”).

Shot in black and white (but curiously flat and expertly amateurish – probably another bid to seem quirky and authentic), it shows a pretty young woman and her French Bogart-y/Belmondo-y boyfriend in conversation, ostensibly about love, but actually about energy policy. She wants constancy, not intermittency, and he offers that he’ll always be around . It’s a parable, don’t you see – renewables can’t provide base-load electricity generation (says Shell), only natural gas can. It’s all done with subtitled dialogue and sub-Godardian camera angles.

This is presumably part one of a cunning two-part dog-whistling strategy. First they get you used to the idea that sophisticated people, who ‘get’ the (mis)appropriation of French cinema history, are willing to keep tipping enormous quantities of carbon into the atmosphere to maintain their tres debonair lives, (some other schmucks, without the distinction and cultural capital to have heard of Nouvelle Vague, pay; but they tend to be people in far off countries about which we know little. Like the Ogoni, to pick an example at random.)

The second part involves some meat-puppet politician telling you that natural gas is a transition fuel, and you nod along sagely, not even dimly aware that you’ve been primed.

Shell is in a spot of bother. On the question of carbon capture and storage (the only technology that might have given the fossil fuel industry a breathing space)  its boss had this to say

Van Beurden insisted that he had his hands tied from investing more heavily in CCS because they would not produce the high financial returns that investors had been used to from oil and gas. “I would lose my job over it if I just threw a few billions away [on CCS] … CCS is essential for society and … is ultimately important for our company, but listen, I have great difficulty to have shareholders focus on the quarter after next.”

More recently it got its Arctic arse handed to it by Greenpeace.

So at times of trouble, you fall back on what you are good at. And Shell is very very good indeed at distinguishing its indistinguishable-from-its-competitors’ product by appeals to identity, authenticity and naturalness. As the Australian cultural commentator Ross Gibson wrote two decades ago, back when climate change was possibly still manageable;

In 1953, John Heyer produced, co-wrote and directed a documentary film, The Back of Beyond, for the Shell Film Unit of Australia. For forty years in Europe, Shell had been engaged in advertising campaigns designed to “naturalize” their products in economies around the industrial world. The general strategy entailed representing Shell as innate to the good life available to the citizens of the twentieth century. “You can be sure of Shell” – the famous slogan is serene and solid like a landmass. Emphasising that Shell was part of Britain’s second nature, the company’s public relations exercises often functioned with the assurance and cunning of a myth of origin.
(Gibson, 1993; 135)

For my money (and as a PhD student, I don’t have a lot), Shell is trying to create another halo effect here. Rather than nature, female-ness and creativity, as per the ‘hybrid world’ advert, this time it’s about implying existentialism, passion and meaning. Which is a bit of a contrast to the lives of desperation, relentless banality and triviality that most of us are forced to live most of the time, but there you have it.  We’ll keep burning the fuels, so pretty soon our lives will still be full of desperation and banality. The mindless consumerism of trinkets may tail off a bit though.

Finally, there’s a couple of implications here that they presumably hope viewers are vague enough to miss. Casting itself as the Gallic gangster has the implication that it, like Belmondo’s character in Breathless, natural gas is a nihilistic narcissist/sociopath who uses up beautiful things and throws them to one side when they’re used up.

Also, I seem to recall it not ending well for the lad. One can only hope that there is a cop (or perhaps a “COP”?) to do the decent thing sometime rather soon.

So, Shell, I have two things to say – Go ahead, steal a great film, use it up, spit it out. That’s fine, that’s just what you do, who you are.

Oh, and Shell? Je dis que vous êtes vraiment “une dégueulasse”.


Gibson, R. 1993. “Yarning,”  pp 135-157 in South of the West: Post-colonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

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

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!:”

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.

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]