Australia is quickly becoming persona non grata on the world stage thanks to the government’s stance on climate change action.
The minister responsible for Australia's climate change targets Angus Taylor is bracing for backlash at the COP25 UN climate talks kicking off this week where world leaders are meeting in Spain to discuss climate action.
It immediately got off to an uncomfortable start for Australia with a Pacific church leader attending the climate conference telling Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “Each lump of coal is a nail in our coffins.”
The Australian government’s plan to use an accounting loophole to meet its international emissions targets has been formally challenged, with about 100 countries wanting the practice banned under the Paris climate agreement.
During a panel discussion overnight, Fijian clergyman and climate advocate James Bhagwan took aim at the prime minister, seizing on an infamous image of Mr Morrison brandishing a lump of coal in parliament.
“As much as I love him as a Christian brother, each lump of coal represents a nail in our coffins and to our crosses,” Reverend Bhaghwan said, according to AAP.
In a pointed speech, ostensibly aimed at Australia, he said some nations claimed to be part of the “Pacific family” but left their neighbours “lying, bleeding, dying on the side of the road”.
“So the question is, who really is our neighbour in the geopolitical context of climate change?”
A recent report by the University of New South Wales found that coal mining by Australia’s six biggest coal producers ultimately results in more greenhouse gas emissions each year than the entire domestic economy.
Officially, Australia is responsible for about 1.3 per cent of global emissions, but when you take into account our coal and LNG exports, that number rises to between 3.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent.
It’s not just Pacific Island nations that have singled out Australia over the issue. Last month, Sweden’s central bank dumped bonds tied to Queensland and Western Australia, citing a lack of commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia seen as ‘totally disconnected from reality’
In September, Australia was among a group of coal-supporting economies singled out as not getting a spot on the list of 63 speakers at a separate UN climate summit in what was labelled an unprecedented rebuke by critics of Australia’s climate inaction.
Richie Merzian, director of the Climate and Energy Program at think tank The Australia Institute is at the climate talks in Spain and says in some corners of the globe, Australia is seen as being “totally disconnected from reality”.
“When you talk to some Europeans, they look at Australians like they’re from a different planet,” he told news.com.au.
“They cannot comprehend how a country can literally be on fire and admit the fire emergency is unprecedented ... and at the same time and in the same breath lobby for special consideration to do as little as possible on climate action.”
The world reacts to Australian bushfires
Since October, bushfires have killed six people and destroyed more than 700 homes. As Australians in cities suffer through harmful smoke haze and many in regional areas fight to save their homes, the world is watching on and reporting on the ongoing bushfire crisis.
“Rising levels of angst and anger are emerging all over Sydney, spreading like the haze,” the New York Times Australian correspondent Damien Cave wrote on Friday.
“In some countries, such widespread environmental effects have led to changes in policy.
“In Australia, however — where the air in Sydney was ranked among the worst in the world last month — Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted,” he wrote.
The BBC also touched on Australia’s lack of policy evolution given the ongoing disaster.
“The severity of the blazes so early in the country's fire season has caused alarm, and has prompted calls for greater action to tackle climate change,” it reported.
“The government has been criticised over its efforts to address climate change. PM Scott Morrison has dismissed accusations linking the crisis to his government's policies.”
Meanwhile many Australians have been left to vent their frustrations on social media. On Tuesday, the hashtags #ClimateChangeIsReal and #ClimateEmergency were trending in Australia on social media platform Twitter, along with #bushfiresNSW and #SydneyFires.
Former prime minsters join chorus of criticism
Scott Morrison’s predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, who was effectively deposed by his party over efforts to craft an energy and climate policy, weighed in to the issue on the weekend.
“I have flown back into Sydney many times but never to a sight like this. The reality of climate change - hotter and drier means more fires,” he wrote on social media, alongside a photo of Sydney’s smoky skyline.
“We have to accelerate the move to zero emission energy.”
Meanwhile former PM Kevin Rudd took to Twitter delivering a tirade against Mr Morrison, accusing him of climate denialism.
“Nothing to see here Scott....You should hang your head in shame for your role, with Abbott & Dutton, for a decade of climate change denial,” he wrote.
Mr Rudd is also highly critical of the Coalition government for repealing Labor’s carbon pricing scheme in 2014.
“And your role in repealing the measures we took to reduce carbon. Time to admit you were dead wrong,” he wrote.
Australia plans to use what are known as carry over credits from previous years under the Kyoto agreement to meet its carbon reduction obligations under the Paris climate agreement, a move which has been criticised as a cynical accounting trick. The agreement which deals with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance was signed by Australia in December 2015 at COP 21.
“We meet and beat our targets and our track record is something all Australians can be proud of,” Mr Taylor told AAP on Tuesday.
“It is important that no country is penalised for beating its target, either under the Kyoto or Paris - this is the basis for greater ambition.”
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