China and the United States must lead together if the planet wants to meaningfully address climate change, Australia's former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, said last week, and he's hopeful that it's possible.
"The real opportunity lies in, frankly, bridging the Pacific," Rudd said after a briefing with journalists in Washington last week. "As unreal as that may sound to some, if you look at the intensity of the domestic climate-change actions undertaken by the Chinese in the last year or two, their positions in terms of real action has changed dramatically."
Rudd stepped down as prime minister of Australia in September after briefly winning back the position from predecessor Julia Gillard just nine weeks earlier. He was also prime minister from 2007 to 2010.
While leading the country, Rudd made climate change a priority, and he considers it a significant global issue. "Climate change doesn't go away simply because it's not in the headlines," Rudd said. "It's happening. It's evolving.… It's incontrovertible."
Like leaders in the U.S. and many other countries, Rudd differs with other Australian leaders on how, exactly, to address the problem. He faced criticism for his efforts to replace the carbon-tax regime that Gillard had put in place with a cap-and-trade system. Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott, is now in the process of abolishing any government regimen to reduce carbon emissions.
This debate is important beyond Australia, because many countries, including the United States, are debating how best to cut carbon emissions. After Congress tried but failed to pass a cap-and-trade plan, President Obama is pushing ahead with regulations to control carbon emissions from different parts of the economy. The idea of a carbon tax, while appealing to economists and environmentalists alike, is considered too politically controversial to gain much traction on Capitol Hill right now.
Indeed, Abbott made repealing Gillard's carbon tax, which Rudd didn't have a chance to replace with a cap-and-trade system given his short time in office, a signature piece of his election campaign, according to Australian media outlets. He also opted not to send any elected members to the United Nations' climate-change negotiations last month in Poland.
U.N. negotiators set a target of 2015, when they meet in Paris for the annual conference, to hash out a global deal.
"This is really the last chance to effectively bring it about," Rudd said of a deal. "The potential lies with China and the United States to reach a new understanding on whether they can in fact together break the global deadlock."
China and the U.S. together account for 42 percent of total global carbon emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Rudd praised Obama's commitment to the issue, but acknowledged that he's limited by what he can do.
"The administration is doing as well as it can domestically," Rudd said. "I think the president stated quite clearly in his first State of the Union upon his reelection that this is a priority to him. We've seen evidence of his administration negotiating."