PETER SAINSBURY. Macron tests his entente cordiale with Turnbull on climate change.

May 4, 2018

France’s President Macron is taking the opportunity while briefly in Australia to bully, embarrass, shame, blackmail, whatever, Prime Minister Turnbull into taking meaningful action on climate change and become the real leader the Australian people and Macron himself are looking for. He’s got a hard task ahead of him but we need whatever help we can get to move this government forward.

Just think how News Corp would be beside itself if a Labor leader got a dressing down like this from a French President!

President Macron of France seems to be taking his short sojourn in Australia as an opportunity to highlight Australia’s poor record on tackling climate change domestically and internationally. He had been in the country only a few hours when, on Tuesday night at a dinner at Sydney Opera House, he surprised the politicians, French expatriates and business leaders present by publically calling on Malcolm Turnbull to show the ‘power of conviction’ and display courage in confronting climate change. ‘I am fully aware’ President Macron said, ‘of the political and economic debate surrounding this issue in your country, and I respect this. But I think that actual leaders are those that can respect those existing interests, but at the same time decide to participate in something broader, to something more strategic. […] When I speak of vulnerability, I want to speak obviously about climate, which is an absolute priority. Numerous states in the Pacific are at direct risk of disappearing completely in only a few years if we do not take action’ ( ). Contrast this very appropriate concern for our Pacific neighbours’ plight with the infamous sneering observation regarding Pacific Islander culture and concerns from our current security tsar and aspiring PM, Peter Dutton, that, ‘time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door’ ( ). Is that, Monsieur Le President, the type of leadership you had in mind? 

Probably not if you are aware, as I am sure you are, of:

  • Australia’s pathetically inadequate and, bearing in mind our international-top-of-the-table per capita carbon emissions, morally indefensible carbon reduction commitments in the Paris Agreement: a paltry 26-28% reduction by 2030 compared with 2005;
  • The failure of Australia to reduce its carbon emissions over the last 30 years and the Australian government’s projection of increased carbon emissions between now and 2030. Indeed, the government is encouraging companies to increase their own carbon emissions if they can increase production capacity, thus demonstrating complete ignorance of or cavalier disregard for the science of climate change and the need to reduce absolute emissions and not simply increase efficiency ( );
  • The continuing support of both major political parties for the proposed development of the massive Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. If this mine and its associated infrastructure (rail line and coal port) go ahead other mines will rapidly open in the Basin and the outcomes will be disastrous for the local environment, the Great Barrier Reef, for carbon emissions globally and for human health. When in full production the mine might be responsible for approximately 6,000 totally unnecessary premature deaths per year worldwide;
  • The government’s irrational support for ancient, inefficient, unreliable, pollution-belching, health-damaging coal-fired power stations (for instance the Liddell station in NSW) and ongoing undermining of the development of clean, healthy, renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. Remember the lies told about the South Australian blackout caused by heavy winds in 2016 ( );
  • And to cap it off, the determined efforts of the government to silence civil society by limiting the ability of charities, NGOs and citizens to be involved in advocacy and to demonstrate peaceably ( ) – I am sure that a Frenchman will find that particularly difficult to swallow! All the while the government takes no action to limit the massive investments (and high returning investments they are) made by its business mates through financial contributions to politicians, employing lobbyists to sweet-talk ministers and public servants and funding public advertising campaigns, all buying political influence and favour. 

To demonstrate that Macron’s remarks had potential teeth, the French Ambassador to Australia, Christophe Penot, has this week raised the desire of France to ensure that climate change and public health feature in any future free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union, for example by incorporating countries’ commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to under 2oC. “The President believes he has a mandate from the French people to deliver results that are in keeping with the concerns people feel on health issues and climate change,” Mr Penot said ( ).

Incorporating requirements to improve  health and tackle climate change in free trade agreements would be an interesting (and for this observer welcome) in development in an aspect of international relations that has become one of the bastions of neoliberal ideology. Over the last two decades ‘free’ trade agreements have been dominated by corporate pressure to create ‘free markets’ by reducing government regulation to the barest minimum and letting the, allegedly more efficient and morally superior, market decide how the economy is run. This reaches its zenith in the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow private companies to sue governments and receive massive financial damages for taking action to protect national interests in, for instance, health, environmental protection and workers’ rights. To make matters worse, such ‘legal’ action does not occur in any national or international court of law but in what is fundamentally a business-oriented kangaroo court ( ).

So, Bienvenue, President Macron. Australia has a long history of being grateful for the advice of Europeans! I sincerely hope that your, albeit very short, presence will also have a positive influence on our short-sighted, environmentally-recalcitrant, privilege-preserving government; particularly on our Prime Minister who, although understanding all about climate change and once being committed to real action to combat it, is now beholden to the loony-right of his party and has forgotten what leadership entails. Bonne chance, as we say in Australia, and be assured that the vast majority of Australians support you.

Peter Sainsbury is President of the Climate and Health Alliance (

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