By James West
19 November 2013
(Mother Jones) – When Japan dramatically slashed its plans last week for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, from 25 percent to just 3.8 percent compared to 2005 figures, the international reaction was swift and damning.
Britain called it "deeply disappointing." China's climate negotiator, Su Wei, said, "I have no way of describing my dismay." The Alliance of Small Island Nations, which represents islands most at risk of sea level rise, branded the move "a huge step backwards."
The decision was based on the fact that Japan's 50 nuclear reactors—which had provided about 30 percent of the country's electricity—are currently shuttered for safety checks after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, despite the government trying to bring some of them back online. That nuclear energy is largely being replaced by fossil fuels.
Japan's announcement has cast a shadow on this week's climate negotiations in Warsaw. Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics and a former lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, described the mood as "a downward spiral of ambition" which is "undermining confidence in the process and the ability to move forward." […]
Sweeping to power on a carbon tax backlash in September this year, Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott, has wasted no time in shifting the country's policy course—and rhetoric—on climate action.
The conservative government is dismantling the country's market-based carbon pricing laws in the parliament as a matter of first priority, and replacing it with its own system, "Direct Action," a $3 billion plan to fund projects that it says will help lower emissions. The problem is not many people believe it will work. Analysis by Climate Action Tracker, which assesses reduction programs around the world, shows that rather than cutting greenhouse gases by the promised 5 percent, the policy will actually increase emissions by 2020 by 12 percent compared to 2000 levels. Independent modeling shows that even if the government stuck to its 5 percent pledge, it couldn't be met without coughing up an additional $3.7 billion.
Australia's new policies are "registering shock," in Warsaw, says Hare, who also helps run Climate Action Tracker. "It's being met with disbelief."
At the Warsaw talks, Australia is contributing "to a sense that there's some unfortunate backsliding among some countries," Direnger says. […]
Australia is among the developed world's worst polluters in terms of of CO2 per capita. But Canada is not far behind its Commonwealth compatriot. Lately, they seem to be enjoying each other's company.
This week, both conservative governments opposed a push at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to establish a green capital fund for small island states and poor African countries to address climate change. Canada recently praised Australia's decision to repeal its carbon tax: "The Australian prime minister's decision will be noticed around the world and sends an important message." [more]