Rudd made progress towards Kyoto ratification his first executive act, a sharp way to symbolise the break from Howard's era. Delegates to the UN conference in Bali applauded when informed (most such delegates represented nations that have no binding targets under Kyoto anyway). But by week's end the reality of climate change policy was superseding the switch in Kyoto symbolism.
As expected, Rudd said his Government's 2020 emissions target would not be decided until the mid-2008 report from Ross Garnaut. Australia has no intention of being trapped into the 25-40 per cent emissions cut by 2020 that the IPCC proposed for developed nations.
This betrayed the real political moral of the week: how quickly the gulf is opening between the Rudd Government and the scientific or green lobby groups in Bali and elsewhere demanding radical outcomes. This conflict, sooner or later, will assume epic dimensions.
The policy test for Rudd at Bali is how much he changes Australia's negotiating position. That position under Howard was to argue for obligations of some sort to be accepted by developing nations as conditional on a post-2012 regime in which developed nations agreed to steeper binding commitments. This put Australia, as chair of the umbrella group (of developed non-EU nations such as Japan and Canada), at odds with the EU and with most of the developing world.
The logic of Australia's position is sound and it has much support. This seems, broadly, the strategy that Rudd wants to pursue. It is, however, not the stance favoured by much of the scientific-green lobby in its ideological demand that the main burden must fall on developed nations, a view undermined as more of the emissions problem comes from developing nations.
Rudd goes to Bali an optimist. He will discover the reality: the unbridgeable gulf between green lobby demands for radical action and establishing any single viable multilateral regime for the post-2012 period. (my bold).
I agree with much of this. What I find galling, in view of the recent election, is that Rudd achieved prominence by presenting John Howard as someone 'going slow' on climate change. Rudd is replicating the Howard position along with some inconsequential rhetoric relating to targets in 2050. There will be more of this. My substantive disagreement is that I think both Howard and Rudd get it wrong on the need for shorter-term targets. The Bali Declaration by Scientists suggests we have at most 15 years to get carbon emissions falling and keep temperature increases below 2 degrees C even by 2050. It will be very difficult to get developing countries to agree to cuts if they see developed countries procrastinating and asking for more time to make adjustments.