Sunday, December 20, 2009

Going Green, Mate

Australia is a country of contradictions: It has both the cuddliest and deadliest animals in the world; it can be 40C one day and 15C the next; and while the rest of the world think of the average Aussie as a healthy, outdoor-living type, they are up there with the worst offending carbon polluters (per capita) in the world.

While most of the developed nations worry about dwindling energy supplies leading to blackouts in the next decade, Australia is sitting on enough brown coal to last them 300 years. Brown coal is bad - much worse than black coal for spewing carbon into the atmosphere - and although energy prices have risen in Oz, they are still relatively cheap compared to the exorbitant prices that residents pay in the UK.

Even their petrol is around half the price of the UK, so there's no incentive to get people onto public transport. And why would they? As the saying goes, "Australia is a bloody big country" and unless you live in a city suburb with a tram or train stop within walking distance, you have to use a car.

Australia isn't just a country, it's all but a continent, made up of people who don't want to live anywhere else and are generally very happy with their lives. They want to protect their status quo and they don't want America or Europe telling them they've got to change, so I'm not surprised that the country is dissolving into a political and social battle that revolves entirely around climate change.

I was in Sydney last week while COP15 was on and for the snail pace drive back to the airport which took an hour (usually 15 minutes), my taxi driver gave me an impromptu lecture on his theories surrounding the treaty that was never to be. Ask a London cabbie about Copenhagen and he'll probably be able to tell you that it's in Denmark - I doubt he'll be able to give you an opinion on the summit, let alone a lecture.

I don't know whether it's scaremongering; media reporting; or the haste at which Tony Abbott (the new Liberal leader who has described climate change as crap) has risen up the political ranks, but many Australians - and not just my taxi driver - feel that a binding treaty would have made them relinquish sovereignty while taxing them to the point of bankruptcy. Ask them how both these would come about and they don't really know - "I heard it somewhere" (probably from my taxi driver).

Kevin Rudd (the Labor PM) wants to introduce the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) - which is being dubbed the "giant new tax" by Abbott... Introduce the words giant, new and tax into the public psyche and Rudd will have a tough fight come election time - he may even be forced to call it sooner that planned just to draw a line under this rather hot potato.

Abbott only won the leadership election by a single vote and was close to pulling out of the race days before. But rather than a new leader fixing the cracks, his election has horrified moderate Liberals and has split the party more than it was already.

There will be an Australian election in 2010 before the next climate summit and it's already being dubbed the Climate Change Election. It goes against all my political principles to want a Labor victory but an Abbott victory (rather than a Liberal one) would not be the best option for this planet. I may not agree politically with much of what Rudd believes in but unlike Gordon Brown, Rudd didn't fly into Copenhagen with a self-mandate to save the world - he went there to make it work and you can see the utter disappointment in his eyes, once you get past the dark shadows giving away the lack of sleep.

It's great that climate change will be discussed over the turkey or barbied snags this Friday but Australia has to be careful that it doesn't go the for Abbott easy option and just ignore it. I don't think they will and when the election comes around, I think Rudd will still come out the winner. It'll be an election worth watching though.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Thank you!

I didn't want to tag this onto another post as the CWO is so grateful to so many people for their trip to Brussels.

Huge thanks are due to Marina Yannakoudakis for inviting us to visit and giving us so much of her extremely precious time; to Timothy Kirkhope MEP (the leader of the Conservative MEPs in Europe), Vicky Ford MEP and all the other MEPs we met and talked to. An honour too to have sat down with Eva Svensson, the Chair of the FEMM Committee.

Special thanks must go to Mark Walker, Marina's Head of Office, and to Caroline Healy (the Conservative FEMM Committee Advisor) for their help in guiding us around and patiently explaining how everything worked. We would literally have been lost without Mark and still quite ignorant with Caroline!