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Punching above our weight looks like getting us knocked out

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, John Quiggin, writes in Inside Story (14.12.20) about the Australian government being snubbed by international organisers of the Climate Ambition Summit, suggesting that, on climate change action, the world is moving on around us.

'A favourite conceit in some sections of Australia’s foreign policy establishment is that Australia can “punch above its weight” in international affairs, as we did for many years in international sports. The idea is that by clever diplomacy we can exert more influence in the world than would be expected for a country with less than half a per cent of the world’s population and about 1.2 per cent of its economic output.

'Last year, former prime minister Kevin Rudd described this idea as a “hackneyed phrase that has become part of the self-affirming psychology of our wider national inertia.” Recent events have shown him to be correct.

'… The assumption has been that this meaningless symbolism would work at the international level as well. In the lead-up to the weekend’s Climate Ambition Summit, and following discussions between Morrison and the joint host, British prime minister Boris Johnson, the government assumed that the world was so eager for our participation that any kind of concession would be sufficient for a warm welcome. The concession chosen was to finally abandon the claim that we were entitled to meet our 2030 target with surplus credits from the Kyoto round that finished in 2012.

'Much to the government’s fury, Morrison did not receive the expected invitation to speak, which was extended to seventy other world leaders. Australia was lumped in with the worst climate offenders: Brazil, Russia and Saudi Arabia. To make matters worse, China was given a prominent role, reflecting a desire among the summit organisers to encourage that country’s positive steps — especially the recent announcement of a net zero target for 2060 — and play down more negative developments, such as the surge in coal plant permits issued by provincial governments.'


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