Abbott vs Obama on climate change policy

Tony Abbott, left, is greeted by Pierre Poilievre, a Canadian minister, at Ottawa airport. Photo: Andrew Meares

Tony Abbott, left, is greeted by Pierre Poilievre, a Canadian minister, at Ottawa airport. Photo: Andrew Meares

Tony Abbott is seeking a conservative alliance among "like-minded" countries, aiming to dismantle global moves to introduce carbon pricing, and undermine a push by US President Barack Obama to push the case for action through forums such as the G20.

Visiting Ottawa for a full day of talks with the conservative Canadian Prime Minister and close friend Stephen Harper, Mr Abbott flagged intentions to build a new centre-right alliance led by Canada, Britain and Australia along with India and New Zealand.

All five Commonwealth countries now have "centre-right"-leaning governments but it is Mr Abbott's personal and philosophical closeness to Mr Harper that the Prime Minister regards as most important.

The combined front would attempt to counter recent moves by the Obama administration to lift the pace of climate change abatement via policies such as a carbon tax or state-based emissions trading. It is a calculated attempt to push back against what both leaders see as a left-liberal agenda in favour of higher taxes, unwise interventions to address global warming, and an unhealthy attitude of state intervention.

Tony Abbott arrives in Ottawa on Sunday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Tony Abbott arrives in Ottawa on Sunday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Abbott's first visit to the US has begun on a shaky note after he characterised Mr Obama’s new push to reduce carbon pollution as a copy of ''direct action'' being pursued in Australia. Mr Abbott is due in New York on Monday local time.

Speaking at a media conference on Tuesday from the Canadian capital Ottawa along-side the anti-carbon tax prime minister Stephen Harper, Mr Abbott said the he was encouraged at the new US approach of requiring coal-fired power stations to cut emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, because it did not place a price on carbon but used regulation to cut pollution.

''We think that climate change is a significant problem, it’s not the only or even the most important problem the world faces but it is a significant problem and its important every country should take the action that it thinks is best to address emissions,'' he said.

''I am encouraged that President Obama is taking what I would regard as direct action measure to reduce emissions, this is very similar to the action my government proposes in Australia.''

He said it was import that policies to address output did not ''clobber the economy'' while not helping the environment.

The comments were immediately backed up by Canada with Mr Harper declaring there was no chance of any country acting for the planet if it involved costs to its economy.

''It's not that we don't seek to deal with climate change,'' he said.

''We seek to deal with it in a way that enhances our ability to create jobs and growth, this is their position.

''No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately harm jobs and growth in their country,  we are just a bit more frank about that than other countries.''

The uncompromising attitude of both leaders suggests neither is inclined to yield to pressure from the US to revive the issue of climate change ahead of next years’ climate summit, nor back any international coordination such as additional regulations or a trading scheme.

Last week, Mr Obama flagged regulatory changes aimed at influencing US states to adopt aggressive market interventions to address global warming - a move that has attracted criticism on the right that Mr Obama is acting now only because he is not seeking re-election.

US officials have also been pushing Australia - so far unsuccessfully - to include climate change on the agenda for November's G20 meeting in Brisbane.

In a statement certain to raise eyebrows in the US, Mr Abbott, who is to meet Mr Obama in the White House later this week, underlined his opposition to carbon pricing. ''There is no sign - no sign - that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted,'' he said. ''If anything, trading schemes are being discarded, not adopted.''

Before leaving Australia, Mr Abbott said the G20 summit in November was primarily about economics and the United Nations was the place to discuss climate change.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten took aim at the Prime Minister's ''flat-Earth views'', accusing him of being out of touch with Australians and world leaders such as Mr Obama. He told Fairfax Media that climate change was ''not just an economic issue, it is a security issue and it is absolutely an economic issue''.

''I'd be surprised if climate change doesn't come up as part of the G20,'' he said, though climate change will figure in discussions about energy efficiency.

But Mr Shorten said that Mr Obama, along with other world leaders, had clearly recognised that clean air, low pollution and new technologies would be good for the global economy and job creation.

He said Mr Abbott ''shouldn't shirk the issue when he meets President Obama later this week, and he shouldn't shirk the issue at the G20 later this year''.

While mooted as a potential member of Mr Abbott's new coalition, British Prime Minister David Cameron has been vocal about the need to tackle climate change, describing it in February as ''one of the most serious threats that the world faces''. Britain, through membership of the European Union, and New Zealand both have emissions trading schemes in place.

Battle against terrorism

Mr Abbott also wants to use the combined strength of countries such as Canada and Australia to ensure the fight against terrorism is maintained, and to enlist support for policies designed to promote increased global growth of an extra 2 per cent per annum. The alliance would boost security and intelligence gathering, escalate the war on people smuggling, and entrench a new form of "economic diplomacy" over the traditional reliance on multilateral international control.

Mr Abbott said the global security situation was in danger of deteriorating as Australians and other nationals returned home radicalised from wars such as that in Syria.

"It is concerning people right around the world, we have an ongoing Islamist terror threat and the situation in Syria has the potential to escalate that threat as militarised radicals come back," he said.

"The vigilance that has been maintained since 2001 needs to be increased in these circumstances and it's certainly no time to be reducing the emphasis on good intelligence, which has been a very important part of Australia's response to the terror threat ever since then.

"We should never ever apologise for doing what's necessary to protect ourselves and to help our friends, and that's exactly what the five eyes arrangements are designed to do."

The Abbott plan would promote privatisation, increase security surveillance of the population, and lower taxes while making a political virtue of cutting spending to achieve an early surplus and the prospect of pre-poll tax cuts.

With James Massola

smh.com.au

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