• John McDonnell

Naples G20 talks show why Glasgow climate conference will fail


The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, venue for the climate talks

A myth abounds in Australia that the Morrison government will be a pariah when it attends the Glasgow climate conference in November.


The Greens, the ABC, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald argue that the prime minister’s issues around the adoption of the zero-emissions by 2050 target will lead to Australia being criticised by the rest of the world and possible sanctions through the imposition of carbon tariffs.


The meeting of G20 ministers for energy and the environment, in Naples over the weekend, shows that this is unlikely.


At that meeting, the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan tried to force through a global agreement that the world would commit to a maximum temperature rise of 1.5 degrees and phase out fossil fuels by 2025.


They were rebuffed by an alliance of China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia.


In the end, all they got was a weak commitment that countries would present new plans and targets at Glasgow.


The Morrison government had planned to present a roadmap on how it would achieve zero emissions by 2050 to the Glasgow conference but this idea is now up in the air. The Nationals are seeking a commitment from the Liberals that they will protect the fossil fuel industry. Barnaby Joyce and his colleagues can draw comfort from the fact that the international community is split between the climate activist developed countries and the carbon-intensive developing countries.


The non-carbon intensive developing countries are also angry with the developed countries because they have failed to make contributions to the green fund that was established to help developing countries mitigate the impact of climate change. It was agreed in Paris in 2015 that this fund would receive transfers of $US 100 billion a year. To date, the fund has not even received $US 100 billion in total.


According to Time magazine, the amount of money spent on the transition to zero emissions is approximately 2 per cent of the total amount being spent on the Covid-19 pandemic.


The G20 meeting, which was meant to be a stepping stone for reaching a global consensus at the Glasgow conference, nearly collapsed amid the tough negotiations that delayed a severely watered-down joint communique by more than a day.


The impasse over the future of fossil fuels has made it clear that coal, along with oil and gas, will continue to supply the world’s energy during the decades-long transitions to net zero. In Australia, that means coal plants will exit the energy system at the end of their natural working lives. And gas will provide a crucial transition fuel during the switch to a mainly renewables-based grid.


The division between the activist developed countries and the major fossil fuel based economies indicates that it will be next to impossible for the Europeans to impose carbon tariffs on Australia. The Chinese, who would be the main victims of such a policy, have said that such a tariff would violate the fundamental principles of international trade. They have implied that if such a tariff was applied to their steel and cement, they would retaliate. China is one of Europe’s biggest markets and retaliation would impose an enormous cost on them.


Australian activists who have been hoping that the Glasgow conference would result in the humiliation of the Morrison government - and that Europe would inflict carbon tariffs on our farmers - are likely to be disappointed.