Australian Greens ready to challenge old advocates over climate change

Australian Greens' Leader Richard Di Natale has called for the prospect of a Trump Presidency and a post-Brexit Britain to be the chance to break old alliances and forge new deals to save the planet. MAXINE NEWLANDS reports
With Donald Trump in the White House, we are going to have to do some heavier lifting to have any hope of stabilising below two degrees

Australia has always been seen as the apprentice in trilateral agreements between the USA and UK.  With drastic changes in the political landscape, for the Greens, now is the time to renegotiate Australia's geopolitical position and put the environment at the top of the national agenda. 

Australian Greens Leader Richard Di Natale, last week told the Australian Institute for International Affairs (AIIA) conference that: "These are tumultuous times; Global warming, terrorist attacks and non-state actors controlling swathes of territory; The EU on the brink of losing a key member. And most recently of course, the election of Donald Trump as President of the US, which raises big questions about how the US will act both within our own region and globally".

As the UK prepare to leave the European Union (EU), Australian environmentalists' anxiety is that without EU backing the UK's existing environmental policies will be watered down.  

If Australia sticks with the UK, it may mean losing the stringent European Union (EU) environmental regulatory safety nets, a point shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer and Di Natale agree on.  

Green's Leader Di Natale's disappointment after the referendum was obvious, "The Australian Greens respect the vote of the British people today but we share in the disappointment of our UK Greens colleagues who campaigned strongly for the UK to remain in the EU".

An Institute for European Environmental Policy's (IEEP) post-Brexit report claims the prospect of a UK exit is already impacting on wider European environmental ambitions. IEEP's report shows Brexit places uncertainty in the short and long-term, slowing down the "UK climate ambition and the ability for the UK to deliver on that ambition".  

European Union Support Still Needed Down Under

The EU's environmental policy means 70% of the UK's environmental legislation is set by the EU. Australia has many links with the EU, and that "means it is even more important that our leaders show the courage to chart our own course as a confident, independent and outward looking nation" says Senator Di Natale.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific rely on EU support in the Pacific region. Last year the environmental group called on the EU to "maintain pressure on Taiwan to clean up its fisheries industry after the government imposed a weak penalty on a Taiwanese fishing longliner with illegally caught tuna and shark fins in the Pacific" says Ning Yen, Greenpeace East Asia Oceans Campaigner.

With Donald Trump in the White House, we are going to have to do some heavier lifting to have any hope of stabilising below two degrees

Australia relies on the EU for many policies, and siding with the UK may put the agreements in question. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive, between the EU and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is an intrinsic agreement ensuring the future health of the Reef. Australia and the EU also work together stopping illegal logging and whaling, and share satellite data to improve conservation.

A post-Brexit UK and Trump Presidency brings global instability and uncertainty over climate change solutions. Senator Di Natale adds that: "With Donald Trump in the White House, we are going to have to do some heavier lifting to have any hope of stabilising below two degrees". 

Defence a priority over the environment?

The Australian Greens are nervous Trump's ideas over climate change will ramp up tensions between China and the USA.

"From a foreign policy perspective, this is a man who says climate change is a ‘hoax', perpetrated by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive. He wants to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement as soon as possible. The national security, refugee and diplomatic challenges that Trump was elected to solve will amplify a hundred-fold if he blindly marches towards a 4 degree temperature rise", warns Senator Di Natale.

Australia has been a key ally of the USA and UK in the Pacific region for over 75 years. The USA and UK rely heavily on their colonial cousins as an important strategic outpost for the region. 

Two years ago, Australia and the US signed the U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement at the annual Australia-United States Ministerial consultations (AUSMIN) (2014). The agreement sees US forces training side-by-side with Australian defence personnel.

A joint satellite tracking centre, Pine Gap, 300 miles (500 kilometres) north of Uluru, provides vital security data for US and UK intelligence agencies.  Australian Defence magazine says Pine Gap's role is to "support the United States in its ballistic missile early warning program by hosting a space-based infra-red system relay ground station".

The Greens' aren't convinced defence is a good enough reason to remain with the current agreement; "rather than investing billions in defence, we should be putting taxpayer funds towards Australia's critical infrastructure needs, like cleaning up our energy systems, improving public transport and modernizing our cities and regions" said the Green Party Leader.

New Alliances Needed for the Planet?

Australia is good at negotiating deals, and with its strongest market growth in Asia, and China's environmental record improving, it may be time to look at new allies instead of old adversaries. 

Recently, China has reduced its carbon emissions, (partly because of cut backs in the construction industry and steel production), put in place greater air pollution measures and increased investment in renewable energy. 

China is Australia's biggest trading partner. Last year, trade deals between the two countries were worth $155,447bn (AUD) with a growth rate of 8.4% since 2011. Trade between UK-Australia is worth $23,210 (AUD), and between the EU and Australia $89,314bn (AUD).  

A post-Brexit/Trump era offer a renewed way to address climate change, and as Di Natale says, "We're currently in the midst of an unprecedented retreat - on our commitments to global warming and clean energy my desperate search for a silver lining, Donald Trump's election provides us with the opportunity to have a serious debate about the merits of our US alliance".

This Author

Maxinwe Newlands is an Ecologist news reporter, based in Australia. or @Dr_MaxNewlands



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