White House Downplays Australian Prime Minister’s Climate Opposition

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President Obama met with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Thursday and talked about a wide range of topics, but the White House has played down one major disagreement between the two leaders: global warming policies.

Obama wants to use the G20 as a platform to launch a global climate deal to tackle global warming. Abbott has been very vocal about his opposition to the idea and is building a coalition to stop it.

The White House downplayed the major disagreement between the two leaders. Obama and Abbott made no mention of global warming in their press conference. and a fact sheet put out by the administration did not mention Abbott’s concerns about advancing climate policies through the G20.

“The United States and Australia recognize the pressing need to address climate change, a serious issue that requires a strong and effective international response,” the White House wrote in its fact sheet. “The United States will continue working with Australia to advance clean energy and energy efficiency solutions, including in the context of the G-20.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the two leaders did discuss global warming, but only mentioned that Obama pressed the need to adopt “ambitious domestic climate policies as the basis of a strong international response.”

But Abbott is not as enthusiastic about tackling global warming as Obama seems to be. The conservative prime minister has said that global warming is not the most important issue the world currently faces.

“Is it [global warming] the most important issue the world faces right now? I don’t believe so. It is one of a number of significant issues that the world faces, and we will do our bit,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday.

Abbott’s North American tour has garnered much media attention because of the Aussie conservative’s staunch opposition to climate policies like a carbon tax and cap and trade. The prime minister came into office last year on a platform that opposed Australia’s carbon tax and other environmental policies that were hurting the economy.

Now Abbott has teamed up with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to oppose the Obama administration’s attempts to use the G20 to push policies to cap carbon dioxide emissions, which Abbott and Harper say do little to help the planet.

“It’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change,” Harper said. “But we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth. Not destroy jobs and growth in our countries.”

“We should do what we reasonably can to limit emissions and avoid climate change, man-made climate change,” echoed Abbott. “But we shouldn’t clobber the economy. That’s why I’ve always been against a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme — because it harms our economy without necessarily helping the environment.”

Abbott hopes to draw other right-leaning governments into a coalition opposing climate policies that would hamper economic growth, including New Zealand and Britain.

But Australia and Canada seem to be among the few governments in rich countries moving away from climate policies that put a price on carbon dioxide emissions. Countries like Britain have been pushing forward with their climate goals, despite the pain it has dealt to their energy sector.

Abbott currently sits as chair of the G20, a high-level policy organization for the world’s top 20 economies. But instead of using his chairmanship to promote climate policies, Abbott seeks to reduce barriers to trade to encourage economic growth.

“At the very least, the G20 this year should renew its commitment against protectionism and in favour of freer markets,” Abbott said in January. “Each country should renew its resolve to undo any protectionist measures put in place since the crisis.”

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