It seems more and more likely that the Copenhagen Summit will fall well short of what many people had hoped for. Some hope that the arrivals of some key players like President Obama and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might still help bring about a positive outcome, but it is hard to see it happening.
If the Copenhagen outcome does fall short, a crucial factor in what happens next will be how the general public react. If the public responds to the failures of Copenhagen by strongly demanding real action to be taken, it will maintain the momentum for change which could otherwise be put at risk.
The climate change deniers will continue on as before, grasping at irrelevant straws like the so-called ‘climategate’ emails. It seems that in Australia, as well as the USA, more and more of the climate change deniers are adopting a position based on their political faith, rather than apolitical science. This could have a big impact on the prospects of getting meaningful laws through the US Congress – if they have such trouble agreeing on something as clearly needed as health reform, the chance of meaningful climate change laws would seem to be very remote.
The situation is not that dire in Australia. There are certainly some loud proponents of the view that climate change is some sort of left-wing hoax aimed at destroying capitalism – including some holding key positions with the main Opposition Liberal-National Party coalition – , as well as a few ideological fellow travellers on the far right cheerleading this view. They are getting more and more vociferous, but they are still very much in a minority.
But next year will see an election campaign, and the Liberals will be compelled by the vast majority of public opinion to at least adopt the pretence of having policies to reduce greenhouse emissions. Whether they will be seen as credible is a big if, but an election year is as good a time as any to test that.
Still, at least the deniers are consistent, despite some of the weird conspiracy theories. A more important issue is how strong the Labor government’s position will be. In some ways it is more inconsistent to profess to believe the general scientific consensus about the threat of rapid climate change, while proposing strategies which fall short of what the science says is needed to avert the threat.
But this is the approach the Labor government has been taking, both in their emissions trading legislation, which failed to pass the Senate, and in the position they have been taking at Copenhagen. While the Liberals have traditionally been the major opponents of the Labor Party, this election will also see the Green Party campaigning strongly on this issue, which is very a heartland issue for them. The Greens approach to date has closely followed both the environmental science, and the orthodox economists view on how best to reduce emissions. The capacity of the Greens, who have far fewer resources than the two major parties, to get a strong message to the public which challenges the position of the government, will have an influence not just on the election outcome, but more importantly on the adequacy of climate change policy in Australia.
If the increasing boisterousness of poorer nations which has become apparent at Copenhagen continues on after the summit, it may also have an impact. Poorer countries are generally the ones most at risk from climate change. If Pacific Island nations remain less willing to be silenced, it is possible this could have an impact on the debate in Australia.
(cross-posted at Asian Correspondent)