• John McDonnell

Cormann's climate change


Shortly after visiting the Elysee Palace to set the French President Emmanuel Macron straight on the submarine contract, Scott Morrison called in on his old friend and former finance minister, Mathias Cormann, at the Chateau de la Muette, headquarters of the OECD. Cormann is now the Secretary General of that august organisation.


There were some commentators that hoped Morrison might get his comeuppance at the meeting. He had managed to skate through the G7 summit, bilaterals with President Biden and Boris Johnson and a meeting with the Queen without anyone calling him to account for a failure to set a zero-emission target.


Not only that, but the Japanese had been successful in watering down the G7 communique so that it no longer called for the phasing out of fossil fuel powered energy generation. And far from being an international pariah, the Australian prime minister had managed to sign low emission technology partnership agreements with Japan, South Korea and Germany.


Still Mathias Cormann had released a ‘Vision Statement of the Secretary-General of the OECD’ in which he stated that one of the priorities of the organisation should be encouraging global action to deal with climate change and press for zero emissions by 2050. Surely this meant that to avoid being seen as a hypocrite, Cormann would have to reprimand his old boss.


However, as the former finance minister explained in an interview with Sky News' Andrew Clennell, forcing individual countries to take action was not what he was about. As he said, if one country closed its fossil fuel based industry, that industry would move somewhere else, probably a higher emission environment. This would be an exercise in futility because it would do nothing to lower global emissions.


Cormann said a better solution was to reduce emissions through sharing emission lowering technologies.


The other part of the Cormann vision statement focused on the economic recovery from the pandemic. He believes that this requires collaboration from the OECD members, saying:


“As secretary general I will strive to make the OECD a place that inspires collaboration and action in support of a sustainable future”.

Cormann says the economic recovery efforts following the pandemic are “a key opportunity to target support towards investments that drive the development and commercialisation of new technologies”.


He told Andrew Clennell that the G7 were the leading countries in the OECD and that it was natural that the organisation would follow their lead. From this point of view, it was important that market economy democracies work together on economic recovery to ensure that the global economy rebounded.


At the same time, he said that the OECD should reach out to the non-member Asia-Pacific economies to ensure that they participated fully in the revival of the international trade and payments system. Incidentally, he said that that system seemed to be working pretty well at the moment.


In his address to the OECD permanent representatives, Scott Morrison focused on the two key themes of the last week, China and climate change, saying:


"The global trading system and rules-based order is under serious strain and threat.
“Meeting these challenges will require a degree of active cooperation not seen for many decades.”

He deferred to the Cormann agenda on climate change. He reinforced the Cormann point that the solution to climate change lay in global action through multilateral institutions.

“At this moment in history, international institutions like the OECD – institutions founded, I stress, on our shared liberal democratic, market-based values – they’re more important than ever for stability in the world and various regions from which we come.
“Australia’s prosperity rests squarely on maintaining our position as an outward-looking, open trading economy. We will never overcome our present challenges by relinquishing the hard-won lessons of the past.”