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Senator Christine Milne’s view of the Bali Climate Change Conference

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Bali Choices – a review of the Bali Climate Change negotiations by Senator Christine Milne, as of Tuesday December 11th

There was genuine excitement and warm good will in Bali last week when the new Australian Government announced its decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol immediately and rejoin the global effort to tackle climate change.

But good will turned to suspicion when Prime Minister Rudd unceremoniously stomped on the Australia delegation for daring to align Australia with the goal of cutting rich country emissions by 25-40% by 2020, the minimum that the climate science requires. The delegation told the conference that Australia accepts that target range, and the rest of the world understood that to mean that Australia was agreeing to negotiate using those figures as a starting point. Rudd’s public rebuke, saying his Government would not commit to any 2020 targets until the Garnaut Review is completed, was worrying.

Prime Minister Rudd’s welcome in Bali will be conditional on his immediate clarification of Australia position on 2020 targets. He cannot hide behind the Garnaut report here.

Australia‘s positioning in the next 2 years’ negotiations will depend on convincing the world now that Australia is genuine. Mr Rudd has to decide whether his election represents a genuine change or whether we are continuing the spoiler role of the last decade.

Perceptions here have not been helped by the fact that the Australian delegation remains overloaded with vested interests from the coal, aluminium and logging industries, the CFMEU, and public servant negotiators still steeped in the attitude of the former PM. It is an ominous sign that the Ambassador for the Environment, Jan Adams, believes that the 25-40% target will never be agreed to here in Bali, when the fact that it is in the Chair’s Draft of the Bali Mandate indicates there is significant support for it.

But the biggest problem is Australia’s hypocrisy on logging and deforestation.

There is a big push from around the world to find a way to include the protection of forests in the post 2012 climate treaty. This ‘reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation’ (REDD) work would have a clear benefit for the countries of the Amazon, African and Pacific forests. But it would also have a significant impact on Australia, since ‘degradation’ makes it clear that logging substantially reduces the amount of carbon stored in a forest.

The definition of degradation is critical and there will be intense efforts to water down any resolution. The National Association of Forest Industries have already flown in reinforcements, attempting to undermine any agreement on REDD which would destroy their propaganda that the ‘management’ of native forests in Australia is carbon positive.

With exquisite timing, on the day that bulldozers went into the Styx Valley in Tasmania to clear-fell ancient forests holding 1400 tonnes of carbon per hectare, Peter Garrett stood in front of a banner here saying “Save Wildlife. Reduce Carbon Emissions” and talked about biodiversity benefits of saving forests. He was talking about the Indonesian orang-utan, not the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle.

It is tragically clear that there is still no political will to act on the clear and urgent climate science. Whilst every country is happy to talk the talk, the negotiations in Bali reflect the 19th century view that national sovereignty overrides global responsibility and selfish short-termism rules the day.

I welcome the Chair’s Draft including a 25-40% reduction by 2020 from rich countries and an explicit statement of urgency that global emissions must peak and begin to be reduced in 10-15 years. But the lack of political will is evident in the fact that these figures are in the preamble, and not the text of the draft decision.

Given the uncertainty about whether Bali will produce a roadmap with significant, science-based targets, Kevin Rudd’s role here is critical. He can either lead with the EU or he can stall with Canada, Japan and the USA. Rudd’s actions here will have long-lasting implications which the world will look back on as it reflects on progress in 2012.

Senator Christine Milne

Australian Greens Climate Change Spokesperson

Vice President of IUCN, the World Conservation Union

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