Interview on BBC Radio 4: Costing the Earth

BBC Radio 4

November 2015


TOM HEAP: In Paris at the end of this month all the major world leaders will decide the fate of the planet… Rubbing shoulders will be David Cameroon, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama. They’re in search of an agreement that will limit global warming to two degrees centigrade.

KEVIN RUDD: If you exceeded two degrees centigrade there was a danger that you would bring about irreversible climate change impacts.

TOM HEAP: There is a fundamental question: what is the point of all these leaders coming to Paris? The last attempt to agree concerted action on climate change ended in embarrassing failure at Copenhagen in 2009. Kevin Rudd now runs the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York. But back then, as Australian Prime Minister, he was there.

KEVIN RUDD: Well I still bear the political scar tissue with that of many of my political colleagues from the experience at Copenhagen. Copenhagen, let’s be blunt, did not succeed because of a combination of Chinese and Indian opposition. It was quite plain, for those of us who sat in the Green Group in Copenhagen trying to forge an agreement for all the parties, that the opposition from China and opposition from India could not be overcome in those negotiations. We had President Obama, we had Prime Minister Brown, we had Chancellor Merkel, we had (at that stage) President Sarkozy of France, myself, the Prime Minister of Japan. The Indians, under the previous Indian government, sent a minister and the Chinese sent a senior departmental official. So it became plain, once it was clear that the heads of government of those two countries were not going to take the negotiations seriously, that we were in trouble.

TOM HEAP: It was really that moment when you look round the room and saw everyone with the words ‘Prime Minister’ or ‘President’ in front of their name, apart from the chairs occupied by India and China that you realized you were in serious trouble.

KEVIN RUDD: That’s true, we were in serious trouble at that point. But in many respects it was perhaps necessary to go through the agony of Copenhagen to get to the opportunity that is Paris. We’ve been down the failure road before and I think the international community and global heads of government have some sense of what that is like. This time, of course, China has changed track. If I was to look at China’s stated negotiating position now on greenhouse gas reductions compared with where it was five years ago, there has been a 180 degree shift. This is good. But it is because China has worked out two things: greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon, are disastrous in terms of urban pollution within China’s major cities; and, there is sufficient consensus in addition to that, that long-term, the climate change impacts on China itself are going to present an enormous obstacle to China’s own sustainable development. So therefore, for national reasons China has changed posture. It’s been dramatic.

TOM HEAP: So therefore, it is significant that all these leaders are coming to Paris. That gives you grounds for some optimism of what could come from that?

KEVIN RUDD: I think so because the memories of Copenhagen are still real and, whereas all of us were attacked in our respective public medias for not being able to bring about an agreement in Copenhagen despite the amount of blood, sweat and tears that many of us had put into that. That having heads of government present creates a political price for failure which is too acute, I believe for failure to occur.