Joint retreat: AUKUS nations back peddling on climate

Aug 27, 2023
Demonstrator in the city protesting against climate change and pollution - Global warming and environment concept.

Leaders of the AUKUS nations, all once pronouncing ambition on addressing the climate crisis and lording the mantle of global leadership, are now each in turn forgoing their international commitments, carving out excuses and worse.

AUKUS, the recent defence agreement between Australia, the UK and the USA, is demonstrating a surprising quirk: joint-failure to lead on carbon emissions reductions and climate change adaptation despite the magnitude of risks to national security.

As the northern hemisphere assesses the devastation from record breaking heat and catastrophic storms; the southern hemisphere is bracing for a tough summer season ahead. And already South America is suffering from heatwave in the middle of winter, leading some in Australia to speculate on the looming bushfire season.

This comes amid growing calls for the Albanese Government to release a report from the Office of National Intelligence on the national security implications of the climate crisis.

The Government refuses to publicly comment on the report despite it being on the desk of cabinet members since late 2022, all adding to frustration from the Greens and organisations like Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG) about the lack of action on the climate crisis and the doubling down on fossil fuels.

Is the Government sitting on the report because it contradicts recent decisions to expand fossil fuel projects like Woodside’s Scarborough? Might the report issue stark and justified reasons to reorganise our priorities instead of committing to throwing obscene sums after nuclear powered submarines?

“What China does or does not do will not drown small island states, nor desertify the dry subtropics, nor drive a global decline in crop yields, kill the Barrier Reef, salinate Kakadu or force the displacement of tens of millions of people. But a hotter climate will, probably in significant measure even before a full fleet of nuclear submarines has been commissioned in the 2040s”, said ASLCG in a recent report.

Australia is missing in action”, but we are not the only ones.

SUNAK: from the tears of Alok Sharma to anti-green populism

The premiere international meeting on climate change, the Conference of Parties (COP), and indeed the whole United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is struggling with legitimacy problems.

The next meeting, COP28, will be held later this year in the United Arab Emirates, leading many to recoil at the dissonance between a climate crisis conference being hosted by a petro-state and led by fossil fuel executive, Sultan Al Jaber.

But not long ago, it was Glasgow’s turn to play host; and COP26 was met with much less hostility in part due to the UK’s apparent commitment to leading on climate action. Many remember the moment when, in the conclusion of last-minute negotiations, then President Alok Sharma fighting back tears apologised for failing to a pass a strongly worded communique on the phasing out of coal instead capitulating to phasing down coal. UK’s leadership in that moment seemed genuine, and even Boris Johnson was broadly recognised for leading the UK at the peak of its climate ambition. A lot has changed since then.

Rishi Sunak, facing down a tough election, is breaking with the decade-long bipartisan commitment in order to wedge Labour on green policies; adding anti-green diatribes to his list of culture war talking points against anything perceived as ‘Left’.

Associate Director at the Institute of Public Policy Research, Luke Murphy said “I don’t think many people would actually now consider the UK to be a global leader (on the climate).”

“What the government seems to be doing is using the climate to divide the public”.

Under Sunak, the UK is committing itself to fossil fuel, announcing “hundreds” of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. The decision to abdicate from global climate leadership has not gone down smoothly in the Conservative Party, drawing censure and even resignations for party and cabinet members.

BIDEN: Leading by example?

Consistently and safely couched in a ‘well, he is better than the alternative’, Joe Biden has a mixed record of “leading by the power of our example”.

Of the leaders discussed here, Biden has taken the most ambitious action by far. The Build Back Better Act included important tax credits for electric vehicles and incentives for solar panels. But some argue it does not go far enough – falling well short of a Green New Deal and failing to include the Clean Energy Performance Program.

Continuing the thread of approving oil and gas expansion, the Biden Administration green lit the contentious Willow Project, going against his election commitment to ban new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters. Estimated to produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, the Willow Project will be the biggest development in the region for decades. In addition to the Willow Project, the Biden Administration has also more recently approved fossil fuel licenses in the Gulf of Mexico.

Committed to a fossil fuel complex:

Appeals to national security abound in the political landscape of AUKUS. Nations are circulating, among other arguments, the need to ‘shore-up domestic capacity’, to ‘boost the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic slump or recession’, and even apparently enlightened pursuits to supply the world with ‘clean’ gas, coal and oil; and moralised attempts to decouple from and starve authoritarian states – but in reality, all that is going on is a continued commitment and recommitment to a fossil fuel industrial complex.

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