China, U.S. Key to Global Warming Pact

President Obama meets with then-Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd in the Oval office of the White House in Washington on March 24, 2009.
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Dec. 13, 2013, 7:07 a.m.

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.”

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