Australian PM Kevin Rudd met with President Obama at The White House on Monday to discuss, among other things, climate. And although the two countries are on opposite sides of the globe, they are blazing political and historical paths on climate as if they were next-door neighbors.
While poring through the stories in my RSS one day this summer, I was struck by a subheadline in one that read: "Senators push back passage of greenhouse gas bill." Without knowing otherwise, I assumed that it was a reference to the climate bill currently being considered in the United States congress, but alas, it was not.
The article was about the climate legislation currently being considered and batted around in the Australian parliament. Rudd is facing increasing pressure in Australia as his climate proposal has already been defeated twice in the Australian Senate and the new Prime Minister is losing political capital as a result.
But the fact that the two countries are both currently considering cap and trade legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions is hardly the first time the two countries have converged on environmental policy. In fact, they've blazed long, similar paths, building institutions and structures that could quite likely see the two countries continue to converge.
The similarities between the two countries are striking. Both the United States and Australia are heavily reliant on burning coal for electricity; both have been extremely reluctant to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (although one of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's first acts in office was to sign the treaty); both countries are embroiled in major debates about the effectiveness of carbon trading schemes; critics of carbon trading in both countries say proponents underestimate the economic costs involved and overestimate the economic and environmental benefits; both countries' lower legislative houses have passed an emissions trading scheme, and now; the climate policy of both countries hangs in the balance of the senate -- and it is expected to be more difficult to get this legislation through both of the upper houses.
Yet while Australia's upper house has a decent chance of bending in favor of environmentalist interests, conservative interests in the U.S. Senate have thus far been successful in delaying Senate action on climate and could very likely muster the necessary 41 votes to block passage of a Waxman-Markey-like cap-and-trade bill. "This bill coming out of the House is going nowhere in the Senate," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this summer.
So here we are with two like countries blazing similar paths on climate. But as hopes dim for a full treaty to be reached next month in Copenhagen and Prime Minister Rudd tempering expectations for the pivotal climate talks, one wonders whether the two countries will continue to converge on policy, or if possibly they might begin to diverge.
Remember, Australia ratified Kyoto. The United States did not.