It is amazing how quickly a country can change its policies on climate change. With elections only in 2013, the reversals in climate change policies are already evident and having an impact. Pilita Clark writes an important article in the Financial Times on an assessment by Globe International. The results show that, while Australia is in reverse gear, there only four countries of the 66 surveyed that have no comprehensive legislation on climate change: Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates. With EiD’s Canadian connections, this is sad news indeed. All four countries have a strong commitment to the development of fossil fuels. It is not obvious when sustainable energy will gain or re-gain a foothold in any of the four.
Australia marked down for reversal of climate change law
The Australian government has taken an unscientific approach to climate change that is “so unintellectual as to be unacceptable”, a prominent British Conservative peer has claimed.
“Australia is very disappointing,” said Lord Deben, a former chairman of the UK Conservative party and ex-cabinet minister who heads Globe International, a legislator body that annually assesses laws to combat climate change around the world.
The conservative Australian government led by the prime minister Tony Abbott is singled out in the latest Globe report on Thursday for being the only one of 66 countries studied that tried to repeal national climate legislation in the past year.
The 66 nations account for almost 90 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Eight passed key climate legislation last year, while another 19 made what Globe calls “positive advances”. That means a total of 487 climate laws have now been passed worldwide – up from fewer than 100 in 2002 and under 40 in 1997.
The Globe report comes as two of the world’s most authoritative scientific bodies – the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK’s Royal Society – took the unprecedented step on Thursday of publishing a simple explanation of what they say is “the clear evidence that humans are causing the climate to change”.
The document addresses the highly polarised debate about climate change that continues in many countries.
In the four years since Globe started charting worldwide legislation, only Canada, and now Australia, have reversed significant climate laws, said the report’s authors.
Japan may follow suit after declaring that a shutdown of its nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster had made its previous climate targets impossible to meet.
The Abbott government began moving to dismantle Australia’s carbon tax and other measures introduced under the previous Labor government shortly after winning power in September.
It aims to replace them with a new scheme to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a lower cost, but Lord Deben characterised its attitude as a “reversal”.
“I think it’s the last flourish of the dismisses,” said the peer, who was known as John Gummer when he was a minister in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
He said Mr Abbott relied on the “very dubious” work of a small minority of climate analysts, and his was “the last example of a government coming to power on the basis that really all this [climate change] is nonsense”.
For Australia to repeal climate measures when it had just recorded its hottest year on record was startling, he said in an interview with the Financial Times: “It’s so unintellectual as to be unacceptable; I mean it is just amazing.”
The Globe report highlights a number of measures taken elsewhere last year, from a climate change action plan in Kenya to a draft general law on climate change in Costa Rica and new emissions targets in Switzerland.
These steps add to earlier moves, ranging from a plan to cut the carbon intensity of economic output in China – “the biggest improvers”, according to Lord Deben – to Mexico’s general law on climate change and the UK’s 2008 climate change act.
Only four of the 66 countries in Globe’s new report lack any comprehensive national climate legislation: Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates.
However, some Canadian provinces have introduced their own climate plans, such as carbon taxes, and Saudi Arabia has announced ambitious solar energy plans.
The Globe report says the momentum for climate change legislation is shifting from the wealthier, industrialised countries, which kicked off such lawmaking, to emerging economies.
Further climate laws are expected to be passed this year and next, in advance of a closely watched UN climate summit in Paris at the end of 2015, where world leaders are due to seal a global binding treaty to combat climate change.
As the Globe study acknowledges, however, the hundreds of laws countries have passed so far will not limit greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent a 2C rise in global temperatures from pre-industrial levels, which scientists say could lead to risky changes in the climate.