BBC BLOGS - Nick Bryant's Australia
« Previous | Main | Next »

Copenhagen Down Under

Nick Bryant | 09:36 UK time, Sunday, 20 December 2009

Kevin Rudd in CopenhagenA play on the "Kevin 07" T-shirts worn by Labor activists at the last election, Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is often known as "Kevin 24/7" for an unrelenting work ethic.

Copenhagen may well go down as the sternest test yet of his stamina, and as the negotiations drew to a close he urged his fellow world leaders to "work, work, work".

But have they done enough?

Mr Rudd himself has described the last-ditch agreement reached between the US, China and other key states in the Danish capital as a "big step forward", for the simple reason that developed and developing nations have agreed to the goal of limiting global warming to 2C.

It is all the more important, a weary Australian prime minister suggested, because on Thursday night the talks "stood at the point of total collapse" - an "abyss".

But the Copenhagen "deal" has already been slammed by Mr Rudd's political opponents and Australian environmental groups.

Here are the views of newly-appointed opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose unexpected political rise late last month came as a result of his opposition to the Rudd government's plans for an emissions trading scheme.

"Copenhagen, it seems, has been a very Kevin Rudd kind of agreement," said Mr Abbott. "There's been a lot of words but not many deeds come out of it."

Mr Abbott had claimed that his party's new position of blocking the creation of an emissions trading scheme had been vindicated. One of his central arguments had been that it was wrong for Australia to engineer such a major reform of its economy before the outcome of Copenhagen was known.

"I hope that he'll now entirely reconsider his climate change policy," said Mr Abbott.

The Greens have been scathing. Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens, said Copenhagen had been an abject failure.

His colleague, Senator Christine Milne, described it as a "superficial last-minute statement... with no substantive progress made on any of the critical issues".

Greenpeace Australia has said that no deal would have better than this deal, and here's what Damien Lawson, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, has had to say: "Kevin Rudd will try and blame developing countries for the failure of these talks, but he must take a large share of responsibility. The rich countries of the world, including Australia, must stop holding the rest of the world hostage with low ambition and unjust proposals."

Neither is the Australian union movement impressed. ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the deal "won't meet the needs of trying to protect continents like ours, or indeed the vulnerability of our Pacific neighbours".

No doubt, much of the post-conference commentary in Australia will focus on Mr Rudd's personal contribution in the run-up to Copenhagen and at the conference itself.

Appointed a "friend of the chair" by the Danish prime minister, he had made a huge investment in time and energy. Critics here have suggested that his ultimate ambition is to become a UN secretary general and this was something of a dress rehearsal.

Mr Abbott was savage in his criticism of Mr Rudd's personal role at Copenhagen.

"I think that it was always a great conceit to think that Australia could save the world on its own

"The Australian voice should be heard in the world but I think it's wrong for people like Mr Rudd to imagine that they can be much more than the mouse that roared," Mr Abbott said.

But the highly-respected environmentalist Professor Tim Flannery has praised Mr Rudd's efforts.

"I think that our prime minister has played an outstanding role," said the former Australian of the Year. 'He's been working very hard for the last few months... and he's just been fantastic all the way, he just shines at it... he's been really important through these meetings".

Prof Flannery described the agreement as "good but not perfect".

The lack of a stronger agreement at Copenhagen, and the continued uncertainty about emissions targets, sets up an intriguing Australian election, which will likely come before world leaders meet again in Mexico City towards the end of next year to try to hammer out a legally-binding agreement.

It was already being dubbed the "climate change election" and being framed as a referendum on the Rudd government's plans for an emissions trading scheme - or the "giant new tax", as the Liberals are now portraying it.

Perhaps the opposition will be able to play on that continued sense of global uncertainty, and argue that Australia would be foolish to commit itself. Mr Rudd may well argue that if Australia is going to be a good global citizen it has no other choice.


or register to comment.

More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

    Latest contributors

    BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

    This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.