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Should Australia be doing more to encourage international action on climate change

Por:   •  13/9/2017  •  Trabalho acadêmico  •  3.882 Palavras (16 Páginas)  •  133 Visualizações

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Should Australia be doing more to encourage international action on climate change?

TUTOR: Cathy Moloney

Helka Nagashima                                        s5013219


The terms climate change and global warming have been part of our daily vocabulary. We hear about the increasing in temperature of the planet and its catastrophic consequences. However, the frequent questions asked are if the changes in temperature will have real damages to our planet and living beings and if so, when they will occur, or if they are already occurring. The NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research (2017) shows that 2016 was the warmest year – third year in a row – with an increase of 0.99C° compared with the mid-20th century. Therefore, climate change is a reality. So, what are the measures and actions taken by the federal and state governments in relation to climate change and how do they reflect in the broad approach within the international system? The history of Australian governments explains where we are placed in the climate change regime today. In this paper an explanation about climate change will be given. Within Australian context, the polemic case of the Carmichael coal mine project will be examined as well as the consequences of climate change in the Great Barrier Reef. The final argument is that Australia has never done enough to combat climate change in the domestic and international levels because economic interests and state security were always prioritized over environmental responsibility and human security in the political agenda of its governments.

Climate change is a set of changes in the climate of the earth by the accumulation of gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), among others in the atmosphere (CSIRO, 2016). These gases are called greenhouse gases (GHG) and they form a kind of blanket in the atmosphere that prevents the sun's radiation on earth from being emitted back into space, accumulating heat and causing the surface temperature to rise, like in a greenhouse (Department of the Environment and Energy, n.d.)

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Since the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 gas emissions soared to about 90%, (78% from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gas by the industrial sector) altering previous natural climatic conditions (United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). Moreover, improper land use by converting forests and natural vegetation into pastures, plantations, urban areas or degraded areas also causes climate change. In 2015 occurred the largest CO2 gas emission in history, which was last seen in 2013. On the other hand, in 2015 we had a decrease of CO2 gas emissions from fossil fuels (CSIRO, 2016).

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Last year, 143 countries ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, including Australia. It aims a long-term action to reduce GHG emissions to keep the global temperature below 2°C by the end of the century, aiming to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, n.d.). CO2 emissions from different countries are showed below:


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Although The Emissions Gap Report 2016 argues that Australia has finally been on track to achieve the Kyoto Protocol target (United Nations Environment, p. xiv) which proposes an average reduction of 5.2 percent in relation to the level of GHG emissions from industrialized countries in 1990, one article reports that Australia has ranked the fifth-worst position among developed countries in regards to emissions and policies and the sixth-worst position among G20 member states in regards to climate action (Slezak, 2016). Australia is also considered one of the highest coal consumers per capita in the world, only behind Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and despite its small population Australia consumes more energy than France, Italy and California. And more, among 50 developed countries, Australia ranked the 43rd position for energy use per capita and 45th position for electricity use per capita (Climate Council, 2015). This image is explained by the clash of opinions among political parties and governments in Australia about climate change, making any political decision on this issue a difficult one to execute.

Australian politics on climate change started as being a ‘good international citizen’ in 1988 with the Labor PM Bob Hawke planning the highest reduction percentage of GHG emissions of that time. However, because of the weak global political agenda on climate change, Australia did not do much to prevent this problem in the international arena and it became a 'bad international citizen'. Accordingly, Paul Keating administration shifted the focus to the national borders, only implementing GHG reduction emissions policies domestically, taking care to not affect the state’s growth economy. This political dominance was also clearly reflected on Howard’s administration in which he just not complied with the Kyoto Protocol as well as he demanded an increase in the GHG emissions target and the introduction of land-clearing clause in the agenda. Furthermore, Howard also put aside interest on renewable energy technology and research on climate change (McDonald, 2013, p. 487).

On the contrary, Kevin Rudd administration tried to rescue the image of a good citizen by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and outlining the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) when he came to power in the 2007 (McDonald, 2013, p. 488). In this period, the government contributed with $328 million for the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (Pickering & Mitchell, 2017, p. 114). Rudd also changed the discourse on climate change emphasizing that it is a national security threat and even gained the support of the Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. However, Turnbull could not convince his colleagues and the CPRS did not come into force. This bipartisanship completely disappeared when Tony Abbott became the Opposition Leader and forced Rudd to put the CPRS behind. Abbott had in his favor the global financial crisis of 2008 and the discourse was once again shifted to the need for a strong domestic economy (McDonald, 2013, p. 488). Julia Gillard’s 2010 administration finally had the carbon tax scheme approved by the Parliament, however the biggest polluters were still exempted from these taxes, proving that multinational corporations have a great influence in the Australian’s foreign policy (McDonald, 2013, p. 489). Since 2013 Australia has being ruled by Liberals who support short-term economic growth and free trade regime above environmental responsibility actions, which is reflected in the decline of climate finance for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Pickering & Mitchell, 2017, p. 118).


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