Abbott sits out UN Climate Change Summit


Words by Michael Maglis

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last to be able to do anything about it.” US President, Barack Obama (September, 2014)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is on a collision court with scientific facts and global discourse. Despite being in New York at the time, Australia’s Head of Government chose not to attend the 2014 UN Climate Change Summit. Instead sending Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.

The move attracted global criticism.

“We can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation – developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass,” President Obama said, a jab clearly directed at Australia and Canada’s absence.

US President Barack Obama speaking at the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York
US President Barack Obama speaking at the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York

“I’m disappointed but not surprised with Australia,” Pa Ousman Jarju, Gambia’s Climate Change Minister told the Responding to Climate Change analysis website. “What the Foreign Minister said was as good as not coming. It’s nothing … as good as not attending.”

Until recently, Australia had been at the forefront of climate action. For decades, our scientists and research institutions have played an integral role in climate change research. Their work has led to the creation of vital education programs and adaption strategies, implemented globally.

But Australia is a large culprit in carbon pollution and recent domestic studies have shown we are not doing enough to tackle this global problem.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) informed Environment Minister, Greg Hunt that the record temperatures of 2013 were directly linked to human induced climate change. They warned of more unpredictable and extreme weather patterns if Australia continued to do nothing.

Despite these warnings, Abbott’s advisors remain perplexingly unconvinced. According to Tony Abbott’s chief business advisor, Maurice Newman slammed the BoM, labelling them as untrustworthy, bias and data riggers. This stance has not only put the Abbott Government at odds with the bulk of scientific research, but also the rest of the world.

Whilst heads of State for both China and India, two of the worlds biggest polluters, were absent from the Summit, the 900 world and business leaders who did attend were in complete agreement. The world cannot afford another failure like the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

Speaking at the conference, French President François Hollande said “it is very important for us to win this battle and ensure an agreement can be reached.”

Together, he and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel pledged $1 billion each to a Green fund for climate aid for developing nations.

But the New York Summit was not all politics. Amongst the governments were representatives from businesses and NGOs, all of whom were making their own pledges to help reduce global emissions. The biggest commitment was made by reinsurance company, Swiss Re, setting aside $10 billion to assist up to 50 poorer countries on climate risk resilience.

Actors Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio at the New York climate change protests
Actors Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio at the New York climate change protests

Similarly, public pressure on this issue has never been stronger. 310,000 demonstrators marched on New York’s Sixth Avenue in the lead up to the Summit, including celebrities such as Leonardo Di Caprio, Mark Ruffalo and Sting.

“We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call,” President Obama said, acknowledging the large protests.

Prime Minister Abbott will have another, and perhaps final, chance to redeem his environmental credentials next year, at the 2015 UN Convention on Climate Change in Paris.