2 June 2017




JEREMY FERNANDEZ: The US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement will become a talking point for current and future governments as they try to convince Washington to re-engage. Labor’s Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Penny Wong has been speaking with Greg Jennett about the approach Australia should take when it comes to climate diplomacy.

GREG JENNETT: Penny Wong, President Trump’s decision could hardly have come as a surprise. You, for one, were asking questions about the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in Senate Estimates this week. What do you assess as the implications for the world and for Australia?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: This is a deeply disappointing decision. It’s a deeply disappointing decision for Australia, but it’s a deeply disappointing decision for the world.

We know that climate change represents a risk to us, and to our children and to our grandchildren. We know the longer we don’t take action the more expensive it becomes so this is a very disappointing decision.

JENNETT: President Trump has floated the idea of a worldwide renegotiation at what we assume might be the five year mark. Is that feasible?

WONG: It took the world a long time to negotiate Paris and the notion that we go back to the start again is a difficult notion and I suspect other countries would say, ‘look, 195 of us joined up, we want to continue’.

JENNETT: Let’s talk about what it means for the US though. Their national goal was very similar to Australia’s actually, a decrease of 26 to 28 per cent of emissions by, a different year, by 2025. This withdrawal does not mean, does it, that all US emission reduction efforts stop? They will, do you assess, go somewhat close to achieving that target?

WONG: What we can say is that there is still leadership of the US at the domestic level when it comes to emissions reductions. We know there are emissions trading schemes. We know there are emissions reduction policies in place. California, New York, different cities around the US and of course civil society, who have had a very strong commitment to reducing emissions and tackling the challenge of climate change.

So, this doesn’t mean the US will stop everything it is doing, but what it does mean is that US leadership is, regrettably, taking global action on climate change in the wrong direction and as a friend and ally of the United States, that is a deeply disappointing decision.

JENNETT: And what do you think will happen in that vacuum, if we’re calling it a vacuum, of US leadership globally? All eyes look at China inevitably. What do you think it means for them?

WONG: We know that action on climate change globally requires leadership from both the United States and China. That is what was so important and extraordinary about the agreement that China and the United States came to prior to Paris. The President Obama-President Xi agreement was the linchpin of the Paris Accord. We need both of these great nations to show leadership and action on climate change that is effective globally will require both nations to show that leadership.

JENNETT: Now, part of President Obama clinching that agreement with China did involve a financial commitment. I think it tallied $3.5 billion into a global fund to assist poorer countries to make advances too. Would you take it as a given that that would no longer be honoured by President Trump and would there be an extra call on countries like Australia to chip in, if the US pulled that money back?

WONG: The consequences and the details of the announcement today obviously still have to play out. I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals but I will pick up the centre of your question which is what happens if the US continues down this path and doesn’t show this leadership? What I would say to you is, really, other countries can’t make up all of the difference, whether it’s in terms of financial or emissions reduction commitments. China and the US are both central to effective action on climate change. We need both nations to play their part. That is why this is a deeply disappointing decision by the United States.

JENNETT: You may or may not get an opportunity on the side lines of the AUSMIN talks to be held in Sydney next week, but if there was an opportunity to meet either Secretary Tillerson or Mattis what would you say about America and this issue in particular?

WONG: What the Prime Minister should be saying and what we would say is that climate change is a shared challenge. It is not going away. It will affect all of our nations. We all have to play a part in responding to it.

Paris was a very hard-fought agreement. You remember Copenhagen. It took us years as a global community to make sure we actually had a comprehensive global agreement that gave us a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees or less. We ought not walk away from that.

It’s in all our interests to do that. And frankly in our economic interests, too, because increasingly the world is moving to cleaner energy and clean technology and the countries that harness that shift, that are at the forefront of that shift, that are part of that shift, will create jobs and opportunities far more than those who sit back and say the world isn’t changing.

JENNETT: AUSMIN will have, inevitably a fairly large focus on security and military engagement. Would there be any merit in leveraging climate change off that? Make some Australian assistance in that part of the world contingent on the US doing more on climate?

WONG: We need constructive US engagement in this region. We all want that. That has underpinned the peace and stability and prosperity in our region.

But I do think that what we should be saying as a country that has been a long-standing ally and friend of the US, we should be saying that action on climate change is in our collective interests and it’s in the interests of the region.

JENNETT: There will be plenty of opportunities for Australian engagement on that over the next three or four days. Penny Wong, thank you.

WONG: Good to be with you.