To the leaders of the G20 nations: Put climate change back on the agenda for the next G20 meeting in Australia

The G20 is a forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies, including the European Union, US, UK, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Canada. The G20 economies collectively account for 85% of gross world product, 80% of world trade, and 2/3 of the world population. Since 2008, the G20 heads of government have met periodically to discuss matters of international financial policy. 

The next annual G20 meeting is to be held in Brisbane, Australia, on 15 & 16 November 2014, chaired by Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Climate change has been removed as a subject for discussion at this summit, as Tony Abbott has stated he does not want the agenda “cluttered” by subjects that would distract from his top priority of economic growth. This is even though the European Union and other member nations are reportedly unhappy with this decision. 

In July 2014, Tony Abbott admitted on a national news program that “Climate change is real. Humanity does make a contribution, and it is important to have strong and effective policies to deal with it.” However, this seems at odds with his government’s actions since taking office in September 2014. Many programs dedicated to addressing global climate change have come under attack. Most notably, on the 17th July this year, the government abolished the “carbon tax”, introduced by the former Labor government, which put a price on greenhouse gas emissions from major polluters and which was evidently achieving a significant reduction in Australian greenhouse emissions. This was spoken of by the current government as “bad for business”, despite calls from many experts, including EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, that pricing carbon is “the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions”. The carbon tax will be replaced with a series of incentives to 130 heavy polluters to reduce their carbon footprint, called the Direct Action Plan. Many economists and analysts believe it will not be sufficiently effective to allow Australia to reach its goal of cutting carbon pollution 5% on 2000 levels by 2020. 

Other actions which the current government has taken since coming to office in September 2013 have also attracted criticism, both within Australia and internationally, for undermining attempts to mitigate climate change . These include:

• Abolishing the government agency the Climate Commission in September 2013. (This was relaunched a week later as an independent institution - the Climate Council - after a crowd-funding drive).

• Attempting to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the Renewable Energy Target, all set up by the previous Labor government. These moves were blocked in the Australian Senate this July, however, funding to the relevant agencies has been slashed. ARENA’s budget has been slashed by over $435 million, leaving it only $100 million for new projects over the next 4 years.

• Appointing prominent climate change skeptics to key advisory roles. Maurice Newman, chair of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council, has attacked climate change as a “scientific delusion”, and has labelled the Renewable Energy Target as “a crime against the people”. This August, Newman was widely criticised by leading scientists and newspaper journalists for stating that the earth is undergoing "cooling" rather than warming. Meanwhile, the head of the panel reviewing Australia’s Renewable Energy Target is the self-proclaimed climate “sceptic” Dick Warburton. He has previously stated that nuclear energy is the only viable alternative to coal.

• Slashing science and research funding, with cuts of $100 million to the Department of the Environment (it’s predicted that a quarter of staff will lose their jobs), and cuts of $111 million to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the nation’s premier scientific agency (it’s predicted that 500 research and support jobs will be lost, and several research facilities closed). The recent Federal Budget has also announced large cuts to funding of universities, and many other significant scientific agencies.

• The Prime Minister has declined an offer to attend UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s climate leader’s summit in New York in September, although he may send a minister.

• Earlier this year in Canada, Abbott attempted to develop a conservative coalition among “like-minded” countries, aiming to dismantle global moves to introduce carbon pricing, and to undermine a push by US President Barack Obama to push the case for action through forums such as the G20. This was foiled when New Zealand, India and the UK declined Abbott’s offer .

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