Obama Just Stepped Over Australia's Climate-Denying Prime Minister on His Own Turf

Tony Abbott and Obama
President Barack Obama and is welcomed by Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott upon his arrival for the G20 summit in Brisbane November 15, 2014. Alain Jocard/Pool/Reuters

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who once said "the climate argument is absolute crap," had the dirty job of trying to keep climate change off the agenda when he hosted the G20 Summit this weekend. The meeting of the world’s largest economies came a few days after the U.S. and China agreed to take politically historic cooperative action on climate change, and shortly after the European Union committed to major emissions cuts. President Obama made clear he will be putting climate change front and center of his agenda until at least 2015, when global powers are set to commit to a plan on limiting global warming. The G20 Summit would be no exception.

Despite the potentially cataclysmic economic repercussions of unchecked climate change, Abbott refused to put climate change on the formal agenda for the economic meeting. But Obama wasn’t having any of that. At the summit on Saturday, he used a speech to highlight how global warming will threaten Australia, Reuters reported.

"Here in the Asia Pacific nobody has more at stake when it comes to thinking about and then acting on climate change," Obama said. "Here in Australia it means longer droughts, more wildfires."

At the last minute, the European Union and the U.S. managed to override Abbott and get climate change included on the discussion agenda for the meeting. 

"The most difficult discussion was on climate change," an E.U. official told Reuters. "This was really trench warfare; this was really step by step-by-step. In the end we have references to most of the things we wanted."

The official told Reuters the language included on the agenda presented practical measures for countries to take action on climate, and urged nations to contribute to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing nations adapt to meet international climate goals. Obama committed $3 billion to the fund on Saturday.

Australia’s per-capita emissions are the highest of any of the 34 advanced countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and among the highest of any country in the world. Despite this, Australia, like Canada, has earned a reputation for deliberately thwarting efforts to curb climate change. Abbott eliminated the government position of Science Minister last year, appointed a noted climate skeptic to review the country's renewable-energy targets early this year, and repealed Australia’s carbon tax this summer. He was applauded by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for eliminating the “harmful,” “job-killing” tax. Shortly after that, Abbott nixed a tax on coal mining profits.

Some Australians, however, are frustrated with Abbott's approach.

Two days before the start of the G20 summit, more than 400 protesters stuck their heads in the sand on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Reuters reported. The protest mocked the Australian government's refusal to include climate change on G20 agenda.

 

"Obama's on board, Xi Jinping's on board, everyone's on board except one man," activist Pat Norman, 28, shouted into a megaphone at the protest, according to Reuters.

"Tony Abbott!" the protesters shouted back.