US-China climate deal puts pressure on Tony Abbott

November 12, 2014

Michael Gordon

Political editor, The Age




The historic deal between China and the United States is both bad and good news for an Australian prime minister on the eve of the most important gathering ever of world leaders in this country.

Bad, because it puts the spotlight on Tony Abbott’s lack of ambition on climate change and Australia’s far more modest goals on the scale and timing of emission reductions.

Historic deal: Barack Obama and Xi Jinping toast at an APEC lunch.

Historic deal: Barack Obama and Xi Jinping toast at an APEC lunch. Photo: AP

And bad, because it serves to highlight the topic’s absence from the main agenda for the G20 leaders’ meeting this weekend.


That absence was an opportunity lost, given the desperate need to build momentum towards a new global climate agreement next year, particularly after more damning evidence of the threat of carbon pollution to future generations.

Now, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have grasped the opportunity, recognising that they have a special responsibility to show leadership and, it would appear, Australia was completely out of the loop.

But it is good news, too, because it shows that the two superpowers, who happen to be the globe’s No.1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, are capable of negotiating an ambitious joint approach on such a critical issue.

This achievement should transcend the embarrassment for Abbott because no two countries are more important to Australia’s future prosperity than China and the United States.

Before the surprise agreement was announced in Beijing on Wednesday, much of the pre-G20 focus was on their contest for supremacy in the Asian century – and the inherent dangers this posed for Australia.

As Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, expressed it: “We are caught between two very powerful states, both competing for a bigger share in Asia’s strategic space, and that’s not a comfortable place for Australia to be.”

The fact that this rivalry can be put to one side for the common good is a triumph, especially for Barack Obama, whose authority seemed so diminished after the mauling of the Democrats in the recent midterm elections.

Yes, there are unanswered questions, including whether the US Congress will endorse the deal. And yes, there are still several sources of conflict that have the potential for adverse impacts on Australia.

Whether the deal on climate change augurs well for co-operation on other fronts, like free and open trade, may become clearer when President Obama addresses an audience in Brisbane on Saturday and President Xi appears before a special joint sitting of Parliament on Monday.

Abbott vowed from the outset that the G20 meeting would not be a “talkfest”, and would concentrate on a purely economic agenda aimed at promoting global jobs and growth.

To this end, he resisted pressure for this weekend’s meeting to include a discussion on climate change and confined the agenda to three themes: promoting growth, making the global economy more resilient and strengthening global institutions.

Now that an issue that would have been an elephant in the room has been addressed by the world’s two largest economies, the pressure on Abbott to deliver something substantial is all the greater.

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

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