Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 10, 2022

‘The Outlier: Morrison’s world-defying climate stance’ by Marian Wilkinson, in Australian Foreign Affairs #12 (2021): Feeling the Heat, Australia under Climate Pressure, edited by Jonathan Pearlman

With the election finally announced, it’s time to catch up on my reading of the Australian Foreign Affairs journal to which I subscribe.  Issue 12 from 2021, Feeling the Heat is still highly relevant and I found it instructive to invest a couple of hours in retracing Australia’s intransigence on climate action while monitoring the progress of my homemade lime ice-cream.  My Sunbeam Gelateria signals that the ice-cream is ready by reversing the action of its churning paddle, so the cook needs to act promptly in order to avoid damage to the machine. There’s an accidental metaphor there, and I’ll let you join the dots…

Entirely by coincidence, I’ve also been listening to former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans speaking with Kerrie O’Brien at the Adelaide Festival about his new book Good International Citizenship: The case for decency. Evans said that being a good international citizen involves what he called optional ‘add-ons’ that don’t have a direct benefit to a country: its foreign aid; its advocacy on human rights; its reaction to conflict, atrocities, and refugees; and its contribution to addressing global problems such as climate change, pandemics and nuclear war.  He argues that being a good international citizen is in a country’s national interest not just as a moral imperative but also for three pragmatic reasons:

  • A country’s reputation influences whether people trust it: whether they think it’s a good place to do business or to visit for tourism or study; and whether it would be good to work with in international forums, or to support for international positions;
  • Being a good global citizen generates reciprocity, which influences whether other countries will support you on other things that don’t necessarily benefit them e.g. with your piracy problem, trafficking, refugee flows from their shores, or natural disasters; and
  • Decency in international relations garners the cooperation of other countries when it’s essential to get anything done, the obvious example being climate change.

Which brings me back to the AFF journal…

Feeling the Heat makes it clear that Australia’s reputation has been badly damaged by its obdurate refusal to cooperate with global efforts to tackle climate change.  It also makes it clear that addressing the problem is not, contrary to Evan’s view, one of the ‘optional add-ons’ because there are direct economic benefits for Australia, as outlined in Ross Garnaut’s book, Superpower. In the essay ‘Double Game’ by Richard Denniss and Allan Behm, the authors suggest that since Australia has no plans to transition away from fossil fuels… 

…prioritising its support for the resources sector over its relationships with its Pacific neighbours, jeopardising its efforts to contain China’s influence in the Pacific (p.51)

it is putting itself at risk of economic consequences imposed by countries doing more.  Clearly there are also geopolitical consequences from its churlish dismissal of Pacific nations’ concerns about rising sea levels.

While there is widespread public and business support for more ambitious goals, the policy of small steps to 2030 is squarely aimed at holding Coalition seats in regional Australia.  (I will never understand how the people who suffer most from extreme weather events caused by climate change keep voting for policies that will make it worse.)

Although it was published before COP26 in Glasgow, the first essay ‘The Outlier: Morrison’s world-defying climate stance’ by Marian Wilkinson, is uncomfortably brutal about the reality: Australia is an international embarrassment.  Its 2020 policies designed for the Trump era were gazumped by China’s ambitious target of net-zero emissions before 2060, which reset the international climate negotiations.  There is a race for clean energy superiority between the US and China, and Australia needs to catch up. (If not for moral reasons, as Gareth Evans might say, but because it’s in our interests.)

Where the Australian government has just cut the rising price of petrol to negate any price signal on carbon emissions, the global car industry is undergoing rapid transformation.

… Soon after Biden’s inauguration, America’s auto giant, General Motors, stunned the industry by announcing it would phase out petrol- and diesel powered cars and trucks by 2035.  GM was not just competing with Elon Musk’s Tesla — by now, three Chinese electric vehicle companies had already been listed on the US stock exchange, while domestic Chinese carmakers were also gearing up for mass electric vehicle production.

The United Kingdom was also committed to stop selling new diesel and petrol cars from 2030 as part of its own technology roadmap, rolled out in November 2020.

More surprising is the shift by European automakers, particularly in Germany, which had long resisted the move away from diesel cars.  (p.18)

Meanwhile in Australia, there are no incentives to buy electric vehicles, putting them beyond the reach of most people.  But that’s not the only impact.

The huge disruption to global industries such as cars and steel explains why the European Union is moving quickly to impose carbon tariffs on its trading competitors.  Europe has a carbon price, thanks to its emissions trading scheme, which covers 40 percent of its greenhouse emissions.  Its member states don’t want local businesses and labour unions up in arms over competition from imported goods made with cheap fossil fuels in China and India.

When the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in March to impose the carbon tariffs, it sparked an angry reaction in Canberra.  Australia’s trade minister, Dan Tehan, slammed it as ‘protectionist’.  But the MEPs insisted a carbon price on key imports from less climate-ambitious countries was critical because ‘global climate effort will not benefit if EU production is just moved to non-EU countries that have less ambitious emissions rules.’ (p.19)

‘The Outlier’ is a very sobering essay, more so in the wake of Australia’s dismal performance at COP26.

The remaining contents of this edition of AFF include these essays:

  • Wesley Morgan warns that Australia’s climate policy is undermining our Pacific relationships and proposes a path for rebuilding trust.  I found this essay to be the most compelling of them all.
  • Richard Denniss and Allan Behm expose Australia’s efforts to obstruct international climate action and to support fossil fuel exports.
  • Amanda McKenzie uncovers how Australia’s climate policy impedes its diplomacy and how to address this malaise.
  • Anthony Bergin and Jeffrey Wall outline a solution to Australia’s dwindling business ties in the Pacific.

Just to show what progressive voters are up against — at Goodreads where I entered this journal in my reading record, I saw, amongst a swag of 5-star ratings, this comment: A very one-sided, myopic edition of a normally very well-balanced journal.  


Editor: Jonathan Pearlman
Title:  Feeling the Heat, Australia under Climate Pressure
Publisher: Schwarz Publishing, Issue 12, July 2021
ISBN: 9781760642112
Source: personal subscription.

Available from Schwarz Publishing or your local newsagent or library


  1. A very interesting, well-written and thoughtful essay. I really admire your dedication to this issue, particularly as I can barely stand to read the latest news item about another ice shelf collapsing in Antarctica. What needs to be done is so obvious, and so much to everyone’s interest and yet — there are so many people here in the U.S. (can’t speak to other countries) who are still denying climate change or else aren’t particularly concerned about it, or about environmental issues in general. But, as you point out, there are some hopeful signs, GM’s decision to go to electric vehicles being one. For sanity’s sake, best to focus on these.


    • Thank you:)
      I know that some readers are just not interested in politics in general and foreign affairs in particular, but these journals are part of my record of reading and that makes them part of who I am.

      What has happened with US politics is a tragedy, and not just for climate change, but action on climate change is the thing that matters most because as they point out in this issue, if the world doesn’t act, the not-so-far-away future is uninhabitable for humans. (All those people writing those same-same dystopias… they think it will be survivable for the rich and the book is about survival for the rest. That’s a delusion.) I’ll be dead and buried before the worst of it, and I have no grandchildren, but there’s a lot of climate-change induced human misery happening around the world at the moment, and united world action is the only way to rein that in. So we press on…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh dear, that Goodreads comment… pity help us all if that opinion is held by more than 5% of the voters. Around election time I get worried that my predictions (hopes) are skewed by algorithms i.e. I’m only seeing posts from like-minded people. I sincerely hope that what I’m sensing for the election is correct and we get to say goodbye to a few current players.


    • I hear you.
      The truth is, (as the Guardian points out today) Victoria is the most progressive state… and the subtext of that is that it’s not representative of the rest of the country, especially not the resource rich states. The things we care about just don’t register with them. And you can safely bet that whatever your algorithms are doing, theirs are reinforcing their views too.
      It’s a strange world we live in…

      Liked by 1 person

Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: