Sky UK: Green Recovery, Tony Abbott and Donald Trump

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TV INTERVIEW
SKY NEWS UK
16 SEPTEMBER 2020

Topics: Project Syndicate Conference; Climate Change; Tony Abbott; Trade; US Election

Kay Burley
The world’s green recovery from the pandemic is the centre of a virtual conference which will feature speakers from across the world, including former Prime Minister Gordon Ryan, also a former Australian Prime Minister and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, Kevin Rudd, will be speaking at the event and he is with us now. Hello to Mr Rudd, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program this morning. Tell us a bit more about this conference. What are you hoping to achieve?

Kevin Rudd
Well, the purpose of the conference is two-fold. There is a massive global investment program underway at present to bring about economic recovery, given the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. And secondly, therefore, we either engineer a green economic recovery, or we lose this massive opportunity. So, therefore, these opportunities do not come along often to radically change the dial. And we’re talking about investments in renewable energy, we’re talking about decommissioning coal-fired stations, and we’re talking about also investment in the next generation of R&D so that we can, in fact, bring global greenhouse gas emissions down to the extent necessary to keep temperature increases this century within 1.5 degrees centigrade.

Kay Burley
It’s difficult though isn’t it with the global pandemic Covid infiltrating almost everyone’s lives around the globe. How are you going to get people focused on climate change?

Kevin Rudd
It’s called — starts with L ends with P — and it’s called leadership. Look, when we went through the Global Financial Crisis of a decade or so ago, many of us, President Obama, myself and others, we elected to bring about a green recovery then as well. In our case, we legislated for renewable energies in Australia to go from a then base of 4% of total electricity supply to 20% by 2020. Everyone said you can’t do that in the midst of a global financial crisis, all too difficult. But guess what, a decade later, we now have 21% renewables in Australia. We did the same as solar subsidies for people’s houses and on their roofs, and for the installation of people’s homes to bring down electricity demand. These are the practical things which can be done at scale when you’re seeking to invest to create new levels of economic activity, but at the same time doing so in a manner which keeps our greenhouse gas emissions heading south rather than north.

Kay Burley
Of course, you talk about leadership, the leader of the free world says that the planet is getting cooler.

Kevin Rudd
Yeah well President Trump on this question is stark raving mad. I realise that may not be regarded as your standard diplomatic reference to the leader of the free world but on the climate change question, he has abandoned the science all together. And mainstream Republicans and certainly mainstream Democrats fundamentally disagree with him. If there is a change in US administration, I think you will see climate change action move to the absolute centre of the domestic priorities of a Biden administration. And importantly, the international priorities. You in the United Kingdom will be hosting before too much longer the Conference of the Parties No.26, which will be critical in terms of increasing the ambition of the contracting parties to the Paris Agreement on climate change action, to begin to go down the road necessary to keep those temperature increases within 1.5 degrees centigrade. American leadership will be important. European leadership has been positive so far, but we’ll need to see the United Kingdom put its best foot forward as well given that you are the host country.

Kay Burley
You say that but of course Tony Abbott, who succeeded you as Prime Minister of Australia, is also a climate change denier.

Kevin Rudd
The climate change denialists seem to find their way into a range of conservative parties around the world regrettably. Not always the case — if you look in continental Europe, that’s basically a bipartisan consensus on climate change action — but certainly, Mr Abbott is notorious in this country, Australia, for describing climate change as, quote, absolute crap, and has been a climate change denialist for the better part of a decade and a half. And so if I was the United Kingdom, the government of the United Kingdom, would certainly not certainly not be letting Mr Abbott anywhere near a policy matter which has to do with the future of greenhouse gas emissions, or for that matter the highly contentious policy question of carbon tariffs which will be considered by the Europeans before much longer: tariffs imposed against those countries which are not lifting their weight globally to take their own national action on climate change.

Kay Burley
Very good at trade though isn’t he? He did a great deal with Japan, didn’t he when he was Prime Minister?

Kevin Rudd
Well, Mr Abbott is good at self-promotion on these questions. The reality is in the free trade agreements that we have agreed in recent years with China and with Japan, and with the Republic of Korea. These things are negotiations which spread over many years by many Australian governments. For example, the one we did with China took 10 years, begun by my predecessor, continued under me and concluded finally under the Abbott government. So I think for anyone to beat their chest and say that they are uniquely responsible as Prime Minister to bring about a particular trade agreement that belies the facts. And I think professional trade negotiators would have that view as well.

Kay Burley
You don’t like him very much then by the sounds of it.

Kevin Rudd
Well, I’m simply being objective. You asked me. I mean, I came to talk about climate change and you’ve asked me questions about Mr Abbott, and I’m simply being frank in my response. He’s a climate change denier. And on the trade policy front, ask your average trade negotiator who was material and bringing about these outcomes; perhaps the Australian trade ministers at the time, but also spread over multiple governments. These are complex negotiations. And they take a lot of effort to finally reach the point of agreement. So at a personal level, of course, Mr Abbott is a former Prime Minister of Australia, I wish him well, but you’ve asked me two direct questions and I’ve tried to give you a frank answer.

Kay Burley
And we’d like that from our politicians. We don’t always see that from politicians in the United Kingdom, I have to say, especially on this show. Let me ask you a final question before I let you go, if I may, please former prime minister. Why are you supporting Joe Biden? Is it all about climate change?

Kevin Rudd
Well, there are two reasons why on balance — I mean, I head an independent American think tank and I’m normally based in New York, so on questions of political alignment we are independent and we will work with any US administration. If you’re asking my personal view as a former Prime Minister of Australia and someone who’s spent 10 or 15 years working on climate change policy at home and abroad, then it is critical for the planet’s future that America return to the global leadership table. It’s the world’s second-largest emitter. Unless the Americans and the Chinese are able to bring about genuine global progress on bringing down their separate national emissions, then what we see in California, what we saw in Sydney in January, what you’ll see in other parts of the world in terms of extreme weather events, more intense drought, more intense cyclonic activity, et cetera, will simply continue. That’s a principal reason. But I think there’s a broader reason as well. It’s that we need to have America respected in the world again. America is a great country, enormous strengths, vibrant democracies, a massive economy, technological prowess, but we need to see also American global leadership which can bring together as friends and allies in the world to do with multiple global challenges that we face today, including the rise of China.

Kay Burley
Okay. It’s great to talk to you. Mr. Rudd. First time, I’ve interviewed, I think, and thank you for being so honest and straightforward. And hopefully we’ll see you again before too long on the program. Thank you.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you.