Fighting on two fronts, and losing on both

My latest piece in Inside Story, and also the Canberra Times, is headlined Punching above our weight looks like getting us knocked out (CT slightly varied). The key point is that having picked a fight with China, the government is alienating potential allies through its climate donothingism. Key para

Australia is a lightweight, and we are fighting out of our class. If we want to succeed on issues like our trade dispute with China, we can’t afford to poke our potential allies in the eye by suggesting, as Scott Morrison has repeatedly, that our climate policy will be determined by our own national interests and not by our obligations to the rest of the world.

That point has been illustrated again by an article in the New York Times on China’s boycott of Australian coal. The government would doubtless have liked a story along the lines “Plucky Aussies bullied by Chinese dictator”. Instead, it’s more like “Climate cheats get well-earned comeuppance“. The opening para “China is forcing Australia to confront what many countries are concluding: The coal era is coming to an end.”

We are fighting on two fronts and losing on both.

There’s been a lot of publicity for Morrisons. exclusion from the speakers list at the recent climate summit and resistance to our push for Matthias Cormann as head of the OECD. One thing that hasn’t attracted much attention is an earlier insult we delivered to the OECD when we appointed a climate denier, Alex Robson, as our Ambassador to the OECD. Robson was closely associated with the IPA, and contributed to their denialist volume Climate Change: The Facts I engaged in a dispute with him in the ANU magazine Agenda, but can’t now locate his piece.

14 thoughts on “Fighting on two fronts, and losing on both

  1. From the linked NYT article:

    “It’s not market forces, it’s politics all the way down,” said Robyn Eckersley, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne who specializes in climate change. “The politics leads to a drying up of markets.”

    Not market forces? Just follow the money:

    17 December 2020
    As Lloyd’s of London moves away from coal is this the final nail in the coffin for Adani’s access to insurance?

    DECEMBER 17, 2020 5:34 AM UPDATED 11 HOURS AGO
    Lloyd’s of London steps back from coal in first climate change policy

    China’s primary energy use to peak in 2035 – CNPC research

    …Consumption of coal, currently accounting for nearly 58% of China’s energy mix, will fall sharply from 2025, to 2.9 billion tonnes in 2035 and to 900 million tonnes in 2050, CNPC said.

    “If China maintains the current development model, it will not be a problem to cap its carbon emission before 2030, but will be very difficult to reach carbon neutral before 2060,” said Jiang Xuefeng, vice director at CNPC’s research institute.

    “China will have to change its economic and energy structure as soon as possible and as intense as possible.”

    …CNPC expects China’s carbon emissions to reach a peak in 2025 and then enter a five-year plateau before starting to decline. Carbon emissions are expected to fall to around 2.4 billion tonnes in 2050 and to near zero by 2060.

  3. South Australia’s renewable generation is now over 60% wind and solar and is a net electricity exporter to coal dominated Victoria, so the future looks sunny even if the Federal Coalition refuses to recognize reality.

    Japan PM Suga’s carbon-neutral pledge to boost domestic green bond market, says government panel member
    By Leika Kihara, Takahiko Wada 2 MIN READ

    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s burgeoning green bond market will keep growing next year as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pledge to make the country carbon-neutral by 2050 boosts investor and issuer appetite, said Mana Nakazora, a member of a key government policy panel and chief credit analyst at BNP Paribas Japan.

    Japan saw its market for green bonds – used to finance clean energy and environment projects – expand to 824 billion yen ($7.95 billion) last year, 24 times its size five years ago, environment ministry data showed. Globally the market has boomed with about $250 billion sold last year – 3.5% of the world’s total bond issuance…

  5. I know it’s probably a mistake to play the man and not the issue, but I genuinely think it would be a struggle to explain the concept of “consequences” to Morrison and much of his front bench. After an hour or so of “yeah, nah, she’ll be right,” he’d pretend to understand what you meant but you’d know he hadn’t grasped it. Someone driving an uninsured car to a job they can’t afford to lose understands consequences, a politician whose career has been so unimportant that it’s debatable whether he’s ever had a success or a failure just doesn’t get it.

  6. “Australia is a lightweight, and we are fighting out of our class.” – J.Q.

    Truer words were never written, however the import of these words and their full ramifications need to be unpacked. We certainly should never start a fight with China but that doesn’t mean we can always avoid a fight with China. J.Q. himself referred to bullying by China. China is nothing special in this regard. All superpowers, in their era, were and are bullies. The issue goes to how one survives, if possible, in an anarchic world of bullies and the bullied.

    A dangerous prison, where guards look the other way or are corrupt, is a reasonable model for this state of power anarchy which is always on the brink of a new outbreak of violence. I have it on the good first hand authority of a long-standing acquaintance and friend that a person in prison cannot survive alone. One must pick a gang and belong to a gang to survive. The world of anarchic power relations is no different. One must pick a gang and either remain in a gang picked earlier, possibly under very different conditions, or attempt to switch gangs in response to changing conditions. Each course carries risks. And as to the overall analogy… Yes, the world really IS that bad. It is a prison and a charnel house. The fact that you and I (most likely) live in a protected Western enclave in some corner of the world, makes no difference to this brute fact, of nature global in geography and history. We middle-class Westerners are atypical and even our atypical group is about to dwindle significantly by falling out of the protected group or falling into indigence or death. The potential for chaos, conflicts, revolutions and wars is now very high globally.

    The USA is a declining power. How fast it is declining and whether it can arrest its decline at some point is still an open question. My assessment is that it is declining rapidly and may not be able to arrest that decline. The UK and Continental Europe scarcely look any better. They are all egregious clusterf***s quite frankly, by the developed world standards to which we had became accustomed. China on the other hand is in excellent shape, is still rapidly rising and rapidly becoming more powerful. China has already overhauled the USA economically and technologically and not by a small margin either. This really is no longer a contest. China has won but it is yet to transform that win into military power, cultural power and geostrategic power. Whether it can do this is not a foregone conclusion. If much of the rest of the world naturally allies against the new bully on the block (forming a large but diverse gang) it can probably counterbalance China. Nuclear weapons and MAD still form the backstop, for better or worse. Former or declining economic superpowers (Russia and the USA) and rogue minnows (Israel, North Korea) can still pack a huge punch. In the case of Russia and the USA this punch is absolute, meaning MAD, nuclear winter and human extinction. In the case of Sth Korea and Israel, the punch is huge relative to the size of the country and economy that wields it.

    It comes down to this question. Which gang membership gives us a greater degree of safety? Everything else is embroidery around the edges. We should not have picked the COVID-19 culpability fight for sure. That has backfired on us and J.Q. is correct. That trade fight, or any escalted fight with China is not a fight we can win. However, the whole event is one of signalling and threats. We signaled we were still very much a part of the Western, Triad and now Quad alliances. China signaled that it is going to punish us and seek to destroy us or split us from the Western alliance. Splitting us from the Western Alliance is not realistic. Realists about US policy know the US would treat us worse than China. There is no leaving this gang so as an obscure and powerless vassal state Australia simply has to suck it up.

    About all we can do is talk quietly (which Morrison did not do) and try to avoid the notice of those with the big sticks. The other thing we can seek to do is diversify our trade and become somewhat more “semi-autarkic”, meaning we can supply more of our own needs domesticlally in the event of crises which seriously disrupt global trade.

  7. Trade with the EU et al could be contingent on meeting climate criteria, with tariffs being imposed on bad actors.

  8. akarog,

    Agreed. We (Australia) have to stop exporting thermal coal as a starting point. Then we must look at the more difficult emissions issues one by one and expeditiously.

  9. To be an effective bully one must instantly stomp on signs of rebellion in an exaggerated fashion ,making a display of the punishment to deter others who might be having similar thoughts .That looks like what China is doing to us, we would be a good target as we are easy beats and the long time first mate of China’s real rival. How Morrison doesn’t see this is beyond me, maybe he wants it . The Australian newspaper has been preparing us for the possibility of a world that will be split in two – I assume that message comes directly from Rupert and the American capitalist class. At this point it looks like everyday Australians would be prepared to go along with that. I am not convinced that China wants us to surrender our values or that they wouldn’t play by the rules at least as well as America has. That might not be a very comforting thought given that we wont be first mate and we have seen how America handled those further down the pecking order.

    A Chinese/Aussie friend tells me that anyone with connections to the business or political class is going back to China now ,not ordinary people though. Her friends husband who is a (corrupt) judge was planning to join his wife and child here and retire on his state pension in a few years time but has now had his passport taken. Needless to say their child does not want to go back ,he attends one of Melbourne’s finest private schools and hardly knows his dad anyway.

    Watching 7.30 ‘ s summary of 2020 it was great to see how we have all pulled together ,essential workers did their jobs and everyone else chipped in .We came together rather than ‘freely’ fragmenting. Trust in government is soaring so it is very sad to see that our Federal government has not a single idea that isn’t 40 years old .

  10. Such deliberate escalations are not new. It tends to play well with the jingoists on both sides, even when they both lose badly from the escalation in objective terms. Just look at Johnson, at some point even begging the EU to finally start a food embargo, so he can go in full we will win the “war” mode.

  11. “About all we can do is talk quietly (which Morrison did not do) and try to avoid the notice of those with the big sticks. ” This was our policy until very recently and served us well for years

  12. Posted by ABC in the last few hours is the piece headlined “China’s power supply is struggling as winter temperatures plunge. Is the ban on Australian coal to blame?” Key points:

    “- Millions of people in central and eastern China have had power outages.
    – Authorities say this is party due to unseasonably cold weather and coal shortages.
    – This comes as China has significantly restricted Australian coal imports.”

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