Challenges for Global Environmental Diplomacy in Australia and the European Union
Australian National University
National Europe Centre Paper No. 21
Paper presented to conference on
The European Union in International Affairs,
National Europe Centre, Australian National University, 3-4 July, 2002
1 This paper draws on several current projects and papers (see Papadakis 2002a; 2002b; and Papadakis and Grant 2002). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization, including the National Europe Centre at the Australian National University.
One of the predominant issues on the agenda of diplomats and politicians is how to address the consequences of shifts in perception about threats to the environment and the actual short and long-term characteristics and effects of environmental degradation. Another challenge is that such issues as climate change impact on many areas including trade, economic and fiscal policies, employment, transport, agriculture and regional development. Furthermore, decisions taken at a national level cannot be isolated from international concerns, as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol.
This paper maps out some of the differences between Australia and such transnational organizations as the European Union, be they in relation to the role of developing countries in tackling climate change, the use of market mechanisms to tackle environmental problems and the implementation of punitive compliance systems. The paper explores why on some issues Australia and the EU might be perceived as either leaders and pioneers or laggards. The paper also looks beyond the binary coding of ‘laggards’ versus ‘leaders’ to some striking parallels between the two jurisdictions in their efforts to achieve sustainable development, ecological modernisation and introduce new environmental policy instruments as well as in similar pressures arising from changes in value systems over the past four decades.
The paper is organized around four themes: challenges facing both Australia and the EU; why the EU is regarded as a global leader; how Australia has engaged with sustainable development; and how commonalities are more striking than differences.
The challenges facing both Australia and the European Union
The Kyoto Protocol is symptomatic of some fundamental challenges for the EU and Australia.
Furthermore, arguments over whether or not to sign the Protocol, relate less to the science of climate change – since most parties now accept the findings of the IPCC about the dangers of global warming – but to economic and political issues. These issues pertain to legitimacy, national interest and sovereignty, and trade and economic interests. Since these issues, combined with concern about the environment, constitute a sizeable chunk of the entire political agenda in western democracies, they predictably provide fuel for focusing on binary oppositions and conflicts between various parties and for arguments about different kinds of leadership.
Three other sets of considerations provide further opportunities for characterisations of leaders and laggards in global environmental diplomacy. The first is the recent ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by such major trading and political entities as the EU and Japan. The second is the refusal by the United States (the world’s most powerful industrial nation) and Australia to ratify the Protocol. The third is the issues of the non-inclusion in the current set of proposed rules of such major concentrations of the world population as
China and India, whose emissions of artificial greenhouse gases will in the coming years exceed those of the rest of the world.
Climate change has been one of the predominant issues on the agenda of diplomats and politicians engaged in global diplomacy over the past five years as they have attempted (and apparently failed) to reach agreement on ratification of the Protocol. Interestingly enough, though the Protocol appeared to represent an agreement among nations about setting targets, it did anything but resolve arguments, especially over methods for tackling climate change. The agreement to allow Australia, in the words of the Commonwealth government ‘to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 108 per cent of its 1990 level’ by 2008-2012 (Commonwealth of Australia 2001), did anything but pacify critics of the Australian government.
There appear to be or have been several areas of significant challenge and difference between Australia and the EU on climate change policies. They include the notion of differentiation in setting emission targets, the inclusion of developing countries in the Kyoto Protocol, the ratification of the Protocol, the use of market mechanisms, the role of punitive measures and political commitment
The Australian government campaigned for the principle of differentiation of emission targets. Kyoto, in many respects, represented the successful realization of this strategy. Other countries appeared to acknowledge the special circumstances pertaining to the structure of the Australian economy and industry.
However, this decision was far from welcomed by many advocates for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
It is, nonetheless, worth noting the EU had its own internal principle of differentiation between more developed countries in the Community and so-called ‘cohesion’ countries. In other words, the EU, under pressure to tackle uneven economic development within its own jurisdiction and respect the principle of subsidiarity, had internally modified its own policy on uniform emission targets, applying the principle of differentiation by allowing economically less developed Member States (‘cohesion’ countries) to pollute at higher levels than developed ones.
2. Developing countries
A related challenge emerges when one links the principle of uniform or differentiated targets to the inclusion or not of developing countries in the Kyoto Protocol. Notions of burden sharing pose distinct problems: ‘If the EC as a whole accepts that joint implementation can entail the cohesion countries having unrestrained or only moderately restrained increases in CO2 emissions, it is difficult not to follow the same argument for developing countries’ (Haigh 1996: 172-3).
Here we find a division between the EU on the one hand and Australia and the United States on the other.
Efforts by Australia and the United States to constrain emissions by developing countries – bearing in mind emissions from developing countries are increasing at a faster rate than from developed ones – have reinforced the perception the EU occupies the higher moral ground and shows more understanding for developing countries. Australia is paired with the US as a laggard, since both want developing countries to be subject to constraints on their emissions (see Paterson, 1996: 69). Any attempt to argue developing nations should also become signatories to the Kyoto Protocol are countered by arguments about principles of justice and who will ‘suffer most’ if they are asked to cut emissions. Inevitably, both developed and developing nations, including wealthy Arab oil exporting countries, all claim they will suffer disproportionately if they have to ratify the Protocol. Interestingly enough, the main threat deployed by the EU against nations that do not ratify the Protocol is in terms of straight economic interests – in other words, trade sanctions enacted by the World Trade Organization.
The inclusion (or not) of developing countries is one of the reasons for the reluctance by Australia and the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Other reasons include the perception that ratification will severely disadvantage the Australian economy in terms of jobs and investment, particularly in such areas as coal mining and the aluminium industry, as well as in exploiting newly discovered reserves of natural gas.
Passionate arguments prevail on both sides. For Alan Oxley, Director of the International Trade Strategies:
‘The Kyoto Protocol works against basic Australian economic and trade interests, more than any other country. No wonder the Prime Minister said we will not ratify. Environment officials in Canberra obviously think his mind can be changed. They are prepared an “Australia cannot afford not to ratify case”. Currying political favour in Europe seems to matter more to them. Let us hope they fail. It has never worked. … For Australia the issues are straightforward. Will Kyoto work? No. Does ratification serve Australian interests? No.’ (Australian Financial Review, 20-21 April 2002: 50).
In what the Australian Financial Review describes as a ‘duel’, the opposite position is presented by James Rose, CEO of the corporate ethics and investment advisory firm, Integrative Strategies: ‘The inability of the Howard Government to countenance a ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, opting instead to chase limited bilateral options, clearly dates the Government’s thinking to somewhere back in those blissfully ignorant, coal-chugging, oil-gushing days of post-war prosperity. …. An alternative and powerful means of effectively circumventing this government’s ignorance is a very simple one: put your money where your mouth is. Investing in renewable energy has become a growth industry in Canada, the UK and even in the Kyoto-averse US’ (Australian Financial Review, 20-21 April 2002: 50).
The Australian position is based on a logic articulated even by the previous Labor government: adopting a uniform approach to reducing emissions would damage Australia more than other nations in terms of GNP and jobs. In July 1996, under the Coalition regime, Senator Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment supported the Ministerial Declaration from the Second Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Geneva in all but one respect: ‘The challenge that now confronts us is to produce an outcome which will accommodate our particular economic and trade circumstances, while contributing effectively to the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in a global sense’ (Hill 1996) (my italics).
To highlight these circumstances the government compared Australia to other OECD countries in terms of population, agriculture and a ‘resource-based’ economy (Commonwealth of Australia 1997). Between 1990 and 2020 Australia is likely to experience more rapid population growth than these countries: though differences between Australia and Canada and the US are modest, they are huge compared to the EU (29.6 per cent and 1.7 per cent, respectively). Australia also relies heavily on primary industries (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining and quarrying), accounting for 8 per cent of GDP compared to 3 per cent across the OECD (OECD 1998: 39). Agriculture represents an enduring challenge since farming accounts for 17 per cent of CO2 emissions, especially due to land clearing. The economy, particularly energy supply industries, has long relied on fossil fuels, more so than other OECD countries. Australia exports more coal than any other country, and large amounts of natural gas and oil. Finally, Australia’s pattern of trade, apart from depending heavily on exporting ‘resource-based’ goods produced by large volumes of energy, is shaped by exports to the Asia-Pacific region, which has experienced high rates of economic growth.
The counter to these economic arguments is they exaggerate the costs of abatement measures to Australia.
For instance, the balance of trade shows Australia also imports many energy-intensive products. Thus it is probably only marginally a net exporter of energy-intensive products (Hamilton 2001: 25). Furthermore, there is inadequate focus on energy efficiency measures like the introduction of mandatory standards for fuel efficiency of vehicles, restructuring the taxation system (Hamilton, Hundloe and Quiggin 1997) and reducing land clearing (Hamilton 1994).
4. Market mechanisms
A fundamental point of difference between Australia and the EU appears to relate to the overall approach to tackling global warming, particularly the use of emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism.
Australia has consistently argued against efforts by the EU and some G77 countries to limit the use of these mechanisms (Hillman 2000b; 2000c). In commenting on COP6 in The Hague, the Australian government drew attention to divisions in the EU on whether or not to take a ‘hard-line on capping the use of market- based mechanisms, limitations on the use of sinks and a punitive compliance system’ (Hillman 2001a).
There is of course a strong public relations dimension to these comments and the European Commission is
keenly aware of how its opponents might seek to exploit these highly publicised divisions and ‘a lack of cohesion and coordination’ at the COP6 talks in The Hague (European Commission 2001: 28).
The Australian government has also emphasized that on issues like sinks and market mechanisms the EU is fundamentally concerned about questions of competitive advantage: ‘They [the EU] have argued that the US would avoid substantial emissions reductions at home by purchasing Russian emission credits arising from the downturn of the Russian economy and that this would undermine the environmental integrity of the Protocol. The EU is also concerned that this could substantially reduce the cost to the US of meeting its Kyoto target compared to those costs in the EU. In this respect, an important element of the EU’s position is to enhance its own competitiveness by limiting access by the US to low-cost options’ (Hillman 2001b).
Although there are important differences in the positions of the EU and Australia (allied to the US), particularly over issues like the use of sinks, the arguments over global warming between nations that otherwise agree strongly on many issues could well be viewed as ‘preliminary sparring’ (Hillman 2000b).
In practice, positions that at times appear to reflect fundamental differences – e.g. on emissions trading – are modified over time. For instance, the initial reluctance by the EU even to consider this option has given way to much more careful consideration than previously of this option for limiting greenhouse gas emissions
This reluctance by the EU has been in sharp contrast to the strong advocacy of ‘unrestricted use of market- based mechanisms’ by Australia along with the rest of the Umbrella Group (Hillman 2001b). The most crucial ally for Australia in promoting market mechanisms is the United States. This alliance with the United States also extends to the question of creating a more comprehensive framework that includes developing countries: ‘We will also continue to work with other countries, including the United States, to develop a truly global and effective framework to deal with climate change’ (Hillman 2001b).
5. Punitive measures and political commitment
Another important contrast between Australia and the EU pertains to the question of punitive measures and political commitment: ‘The EU’s aim is to have the enforcement approach used to implement obligations in the EU applied to international commitments under the Protocol. In Australia’s view, it is a country’s political commitment to meet its international obligations that underpins the effectiveness of any international instrument – a punitive approach cannot compensate for lack of political will’ (Hillman 2001b).
Political will is, however, shaped by the traditions of different jurisdictions. Although Australia shares many aspects of a strong tradition of regulation with European countries, governments have questioned these practices. In environmental policy Australian governments have not only attempted to promote
schemes for emissions trading but to shift the burden of effort to the private sector through voluntary agreements (see below).
Why the EU is regarded as a global leader
The EU enjoys certain advantages in the exercise of global leadership. The most obvious ones pertain to the size of its population and its economy. In 2000 the population of the 15 Member States was 376 million. The expansion of the EU in terms of population and the success of European economies in recovering from the devastation of World War II provide the foundations for the progression of environmental policy.
The relevance of population lies not only in its size but also its political attitudes. In other words, since the 1970s the environment has become an increasingly salient issue, first as an item of concern for social movements, and subsequently in the formation of green political organizations and green parties. The maturation of this political process has manifested itself both in the efforts by establish parties to coopt the green political agenda, the formation of coalitions (first at regional and then at national level) between green and established political parties, the appointment of green politicians to environment (and other) portfolios in government and, in the case of Germany, the appointment of Joschka Fischer as both Foreign Minister and Deputy Chancellor.
The relevance of economy lies not only in its scale – the EU being the world’s largest trading block – but also in its structure. Over the past two decades the notion of ecological modernisation has taken hold in several European states. The survival and prosperity of modern nations depends on their capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. One of the most important changes in circumstances over the past few decades has been the pressure on nations and transnational organizations arising from environmental movements and from scientists and intellectuals about their capacity to cope with environmental damage. The initial response by governments was to try and remedy certain problems – usually through what are referred to as
‘end of pipe’ solutions or remedial measures for the disposal of waste from factories. In other words, these strategies tended to be reactive.
The ecological modernizers introduced three key concepts in moving from a reactive to a proactive approach to environmental damage. The first is the notion of measuring environmental degradation (thereby providing a basis for debating the relative costs and benefits of pursuing a particular course of action); the second and third are the ideas of a ‘positive sum’ game and compatibility of economy and environment (in other words the notion that a win for the economy does not necessarily mean a defeat for the environment and vice-versa) (see Hajer 1995: 25-6). Hajer outlines six areas in which ecological modernization has had an impact: techniques of policy making; a new role for science; pollution prevent
‘pays’; nature as a ‘public good’; shifts in ‘burden of proof’; and new forms of participation (1995: 26-9).
The greatest support for such strategies emerged in such jurisdictions as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Crucially, the ecological modernizers perceive a new role for many firms, which have usually lobbied governments to ease environmental regulations on the grounds that environmental regulations add to the costs of the business enterprise. However, such leading pro-business writers as Michael Porter came to argue that true competitive advantage comes from nations applying high environmental standards since they serve to promote innovation (as with Japan in creating energy efficiency products) (Porter, 1998: 91;
see also Porter and van der Linde, 1995).
The aspirations of the EU or the leading role it has taken in global environmental diplomacy – either deliberately or simply in order to fill a significant vacuum created by the reluctance of the United States to commit to certain multilateral agreements – hinge to a large extent on translating ecological modernization into viable policies and practices. This is of course a very different role to the one conceived at the inception of the Community. The primary focus in the early years was on political objectives relating to peace and security and on cementing economic interdependence. The 1957 Treaty of Rome did not specify common environmental objectives, and formal and explicit recognition of environmental policy as an area of legitimate concern by the EU occurred only thirty years later (1987 Single European Act) (SEA). In that respect it may have lagged behind both public opinion and the practices of some member states.
Paradoxically, laws on the environment were enacted long before 1987, and for reasons not directly associated with environmental protection. From the late 1960s legislation was introduced on the grounds of promoting the internal market or improving living conditions (Butt Philip 1998: 256-7). Furthermore, between 1959 and 1997 the EU passed 580 pieces of legislation. Many of these individual pieces of legislation are amendments or revisions to existing measures. However, at the end of the 1990s approximately three hundred measures are operative. Most of them take the form of directives which Member States are required to implement’ (Weale et al. 2000: 2).
Furthermore, since the 1970s the EU has launched a series of Environment Action Programmes. In the first four such programmes (1972-91) ‘well over 100 major environmental measures were introduced, dealing with air and water quality, noise levels, chemicals and biotechnology, and waste management’ (Economist Intelligence Unit 2001: 27). Crucially, in the field of global environmental diplomacy, the EU has signed, on behalf of the Member States, numerous binding international environmental treaties. In the period 1975-1999 it was signatory to 30 such treaties and backed this commitment by introducing 96 regulations and decisions in support of the terms of these agreements (McCormick 2001: 264; 266-7).
Much of the legislation introduced in the EU from the 1970s onwards – on vehicle emissions (1970), bathing waters (1976), titanium dioxide emissions (1978), environmental impact assessment (1985), genetically modified organisms (1990), urban waste water (1991), packaging waste (1994), protection of the ozone layer (1994) and air quality (1996) – exhibits ‘an opportunistic and contingent character’ (Weale et al 2000: 56).
This is in many respects unsurprising given the lack of formal recognition of the environment as a legitimate concern for the EU until 1987. Yet, the EU came under pressure long before that date to address environmental concerns, and in some ways it responded in a positive manner, notably through its Environment Action Programmes (EAP). By the same token one needs to be cautious about interpreting these programmes as a straightforward acquiescence to pressure from environmental groups. None are legally binding. They all contain a judicious mix of environmental and economic objectives.
The 1st EAP (1973-76), for instance, emphasized the promotion of ‘a harmonious development of economic activities and continued and balanced expansion, which cannot now be imagined in the absence of an effective campaign to combat pollution and nuisances or of an improvement in the quality of life and the protection of the environment’ (Official Journal of the European Communities 1973: 1). As Weale et al point out, the measures proposed in the First EAP were mainly preoccupied with ‘the harmonization of activities and standards across the EU’ (2000: 57). The 2nd EAP (1977-81) was fundamentally similar to the first one. Both EAPs emphasized the notion of preventive action, an important shift from a paradigm based on reactive or remedial measures. Other pivotal notions included the polluter pays principle, setting standards for the use of certain substances, increasing scientific and technical knowledge through research, greater coordination of policies across the Member States in order to avoid the transfer of problems from one jurisdiction to another, and the need for Community involvement in international organizations (McCormick 2001: 48-9; Weale et al 2000: 58).
One notices in the EAPs a progression towards the ‘ecological modernization’ model for environmental policy eventually favoured by the Community. The 3rd EAP (1982-87) was notable for identifying 13 priority areas for action (McCormick 2001: 53) and for promoting the integration of environmental considerations into all policy areas. One of the most significant aspects of the programme was the development of arguments about the potential for convergence between the economy and environment, hence about the need for stringent environmental standards in the manufacture of cars in Europe in order to compete successfully in markets in the United States and Japan. As Weale et al point out ‘In retrospect, this can be seen as an anticipation of the central theme of ecological modernisation’ (2000: 59).
The 4th EAP (1987-92) was announced in the wake of the SEA (1987) with an extended list of 19 priority areas (see Weale et al. 2000: 60). The main innovation lay in the emphasis on the need to ensure the
implementation of policies. There was also a continuing emphasis on the need for integration of environmental consideration in all policy areas.
Reinforcement of the legal competence of the EU in environmental policy occurred under The Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty 1992) and was further strengthened by the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), which formally introduced the notion of sustainable development. Article 2 of the Preamble set as an objective ‘a harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities’. The focus on sustainable development and, above all, the integration of environmental policy into all policy domains, also became a key feature of the 5th (1993-2000) and 6th (2001-2010) EAPs.
Apart from the ‘external’ influence of international debates on sustainable development as enunciated by the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), the pressure to adopt this notion came from within the Community, especially from Member States that had undertaken specific measures under this rubric. Thus the 5th EAP (entitled Towards Sustainability) relied on the sustainable development plans developed in the Netherlands, Sweden and France. Perhaps the most relevant of all these national plans was the Dutch National Environmental Policy Plan, which emphasized the enduring and extensive character of environmental damage and focused ‘on moving away in policy terms from controlling pollution as an effect to dealing with the underlying causes of pollution’ (Weale et al. 2000: 61). Long- term horizons were regarded as pivotal to the success of measures introduced under the 5th EAP.
Two important links between the 5th and 6th EAPs are the emphasis on such market instruments as green taxes and eco-labels and involvement by non-government actors. ‘Working with the market though business and consumer interests’ is an important theme in the 6th EAP. In particular there is reference to
‘voluntary environmental agreements’ with business as well as an Integrated Product Policy (IPP) Approach ‘to improve the environmental performance of products throughout their life cycle’ (CEC 2001b:
17). [see also Integrated Product Policy Paper]
The SEA was pivotal in enabling the Commission to focus on the implementation of policies. It addressed, under Articles 100a and 100b, the issue of standardization of laws among Member States. Furthermore,
‘Environment’ appeared for the first time as a distinct title (Title VII) in the Treaty and extended considerably the legal competence of the Commission. For instance, the Treaty addressed the division of competences with the Member States, giving the Commission power to propose legislation ‘to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment’, ‘to contribute towards protecting human health’ and
‘to ensure a prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources’ (Article 130r (1)). However, Article 1305 (4) qualified this by, evoking for the first time the principle of subsidiarity (see below), by permitting action by the Community only if it could be ‘attained better at Community level than at the level of the individual Member States’. A groundbreaking aspect of the Treaty was the requirement that ‘Environmental
protection requirements shall be a component of the Community’s other policies’ (Article 130r (2)). There was also formal recognition of the need for the Community to ‘cooperate with third countries and with the relevant international organizations’ (Article 130r (5).
What are the main explanations for this vast extension of authority, for ceding power that enabled the Community to take on a leadership role in global environmental diplomacy? Several factors are at play.
Firstly, some nations – Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and to some degree, Austria and Finland – have been identified as leaders in ecological modernization (see Andersen and Liefferink 1997; Jahn 1998; Hajer 1995). Second, some of these ‘northern’ countries, given their political structures and the strength of green political organizations within these structures, place an intrinsic value on environmental protection and are willing, within certain parameters to enable the Community to act in concert on setting high standards. Third, some nations, Germany in particular, regard ecological modernisation as an inherent part of maintaining economic competitiveness (see Hajer 1995; Jänicke and Weidner 1997: 146-8).
In other words, they wanted ‘to protect the “level playing field” by ensuring their industries did not bear costs from which their competitors were free’ and were adamant ‘that the amendments to the treaty include a reference to a high level of environmental protection to allay their fears about the effects of the single market’ (Weale et al. 2000: 44). The economically less developed states in southern Europe (the so-called
‘cohesion countries’) received compensation in the form of ‘structural funds’ to ensure they were not overly economically disadvantaged by the setting of higher standards (Weale et al. 2000: 45). This pattern of bargaining is important in understanding the paradoxes of the EU’s stance on other global environmental issues like climate change.
So far this account of the EU as a global leader has focused on the expansion of its competence to enact legislation and on powerful statements of intent encapsulated in ever more comprehensive EAPs.
However, the deepening of the legal basis for action, with a wide range of procedures applying to different issues, can also be viewed as a ‘source of bewilderment for third parties’ (Bretherton and Vogler 1999: 84).
Why, despite this confusion, is the EU seen as global leader? There are several explanations.
• The EU, and at least some Member States have promoted ecological modernisation.
• The EU has taken the lead on climate change since the United States has major difficulties in coming to terms with the Kyoto regime.
• The EU has benefited from the perception that countries like the United States are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to save parts of the planet.
• The EU has used environmental issues to secure its own legitimacy.
• The multi-level character of governance in the EU has created the impression that decisions are consensual and apolitical, that it is not operating like a typical nation state with narrow interests and has adopted an internationalist line.
The EU, or at least some of its Member States, have taken the lead in ecological modernisation, prompting many commentators to draw a contrast between leaders and laggards on the world stage, often with limited reference to the circumstances that contribute to different stances on issues like climate change. There thus develops a ‘consensus’ among the community of experts, which reinforces broader opinion – a variant of the ‘band wagon’ effect in opinion formation.
In other words, the image conveyed by the media about leaders and laggards is backed by recent analyses of environmental policy that invoke a distinction between leaders and laggards (Jahn, 1998; Crepaz, 1995;
Dryzek, 1997; Andersen and Liefferink, 1997; Hanf and Jansen 1998; Lafferty and Meadowcroft 2000).
The distinction is made both between states in the EU and between the EU and nations states, the latter comparison usually being in favour of the EU, even though the actual units being compared are different – the one being transnational, the other a nation state. The counter argument is of course that the EU does, despite its internal differences, represent the unified interests of nation states at fora like 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the regular Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Perhaps one of the keys to this classification of the EU as a leader lies in the influence within the EU of the leader or pioneer states on ecological modernisation – such the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Austria.
Taking the lead on climate change
The EU has seized the opportunity of taking the lead on climate change since other advanced industrial nations, notably the United States, have major difficulties in coming to terms with the Kyoto Protocol regime. It has been relatively easy so far to portray countries like the United States (and Australia) as laggards in this particular game.
The ambitions of the EU to play a prominent role in climate change negotiations are part of broader concerns about taking the lead on issues at a global level. Interest in developing climate change policies originates in a 1986 resolution by the European Parliament. The June 1990 European Council meeting in Dublin placed the issue on the agenda, and there followed an October 1990 statement on the need to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. The EU had thereby positioned itself to take ‘a strong and leading role, particularly in relation to the United States’ (Haigh, 1996: 162). In terms of public image, the EU was triumphant on two fronts: it presented a united front and was seen as progressive by developing nations and environmental NGOs. To demonstrate its resolve the Commission promised a carbon energy
tax, renewable energy initiatives (the ALTENER programme), increased commitment to a programme for Specific Actions for Vigorous Energy Efficiency (SAVE), and to monitor CO2 emissions. However, the internal political logic of the EU led to a significant dilution of this effort (see Baker 2000; Haigh 1996).
Furthermore, critics point to lack of coordination of policies (especially in agriculture and transport), and the weak position of the environment directorate relative to other agencies (Haigh 1996; Baker 2000). As with individual nation states the EU takes crucial economic decisions (creating a Single European Market and promoting a trans-European road network) which conflict with environmental considerations (Butt Philip 1999: 272). Baker is pessimistic about future efforts to meet obligations under the Climate Change Convention because energy policy ‘remains orientated towards deregulation, is premised on a strong belief in market-based energy solutions, and member-states are reluctant to concede further competence to the Union in this area’ (2000: 325). At any rate, commitment to economic development (particularly subsidising projects in poorer regions of the EU) creates fundamental problems in coordinating policy.
Other difficulties arise from the potential impact of climate change policy on other areas (trade, taxation, transport, energy, agriculture, industry, aid and research and development) (Bretherton and Vogler, 1999:
82) and the power of interests behind these spheres (Butt Philip, 1999: 272). At best interests may coincide (say between environmental and economic objectives). Energy policy remains ‘ad hoc’ (Baker, 2000).
Funding for SAVE and ALTENER programmes was modest, and their impact on national energy policies has been weak (Haigh, 1996: 184).
Nonetheless, in pursuing the high moral ground the EU gained a favourable reputation in many quarters.
Baker notes how the Commission viewed outcomes at Kyoto as far too modest, and how prominent figures like former United Kingdom Secretary of State, John Gummer, accused the United States of being strong on rhetoric and weak on action in order to emphasise the ‘leadership’ role of the EU: ‘The United States was full of fine words about what had to be done but wholly lacked the will to take the leadership role, which befitted the world’s biggest polluter. The EU was at last living up to its position as the world’s greatest trading grouping and seeking to establish a world order capable of countering a global threat’
(cited by Baker, 2000: 324). Similarly, Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard is quoted as saying the Kyoto outcome for Australia was a ‘mistake’ and ‘Australia had made a misleading case and “got away with it”, and that this would not be forgotten’ (Hamilton 2001: 89). Furthermore, there are claims a EU environment spokesman referred to the outcome for Australia as ‘immoral and wrong’ and ‘a disgrace’, and felt ‘it will have to change’ (Hamilton 2001: 89). The EU has also directly lobbied organizations like the Australia Institute ‘to press for full and immediate action to implement the targets – however unsatisfactory – agreed in Kyoto’ (Hamilton 2001: 161).
Overall, despite internal problems, the EU is perceived as progressive because of the stance by countries like the United States on a range of issues. First, there is the question of emissions from developing
countries, which are rising at a faster rate than from developed ones. The EU is seen as more just for showing sympathy for developing countries, and Australia and the United States are seen as laggards for wanting to subject developing countries to constraints on their emissions (see Paterson, 1996: 69). Any attempt to argue developing nations should become signatories to Kyoto are countered by arguments about principles of justice and who will ‘suffer most’ if they are asked to cut emissions. Inevitably, all nations, including Arab oil exporting countries, claim they will suffer disproportionately if they ratify the Protocol.
Second, the United States and Australia refused at the 2001 COP7 meeting in Marrakesh, to ratify the Protocol, apparently isolating themselves even from their ‘Umbrella Group’ partners (Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Russia). Third, the approach by the EU to market mechanisms has been much more cautious than that pursued by the Umbrella Group (Hillman 2001b). Finally, countries like the United States and Australia apparently differ from the EU on the question punitive measures and political commitment: ‘The EU’s aim is to have the enforcement approach used to implement obligations in the EU applied to international commitments under the Protocol. In Australia’s view, it is a country’s political commitment to meet its international obligations that underpins the effectiveness of any international instrument – a punitive approach cannot compensate for lack of political will’ (Hillman 2001b).
A ‘selfish’ United States
Questions of who is exercising global leadership hinge on perceptions. The EU benefited from perceptions that the United States is a laggard, unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to save parts of the planet.
However, it has also benefited from unforeseen opportunities for restructuring its economies (notably those of Germany and the United Kingdom in the 1990s) to meet some of the challenges of climate change.
Given perceptions of leaders and laggards, one of the most surprising parallels between the EU and jurisdictions like the United States and Australia is the all round failure to achieve original targets of stabilising CO2 levels by 2000. The partial success of Germany and the United Kingdom in reducing emissions had less to do with deliberate policies and more with contingent factors (Kellow 1999: 277). In the United Kingdom the coal industry was drastically scaled down for political and economic reasons (and replaced by gas-fuelled power plants). Germany was able to curb emissions after political unification, and disintegration of East German industry. Although the EU (as well as other OECD nations) has introduced mechanisms to implement climate change policies, reductions in emissions in one area tend to be undermined by increases in another (eg. more traffic on roads).
These limitations have emerged because of shared preoccupations with maintaining economic competitiveness. Compared to the rhetoric prior to the 1992 Rio Conference, by the late 1990s the EU had retreated from commitments to setting unilateral targets on emissions, and, like most other countries, strongly articulated the logic of economic competitiveness: ‘there can be no question of our European economy suffering the consequences of a unilateral global environmental protection policy while our
trading partners could avoid measures influencing energy prices and hence the competitiveness of industry and employment’ (CEC 1997: 14, cited Baker, 2001:324). Of course this conflicts with the arguments for ecological modernisation and the aim of ensuring the complementarity of economic and environmental objectives.
An opportunity to acquire more legitimacy
Several writers argue the EU has embarked on a deliberate strategy of using environmental issues to secure its own legitimacy (see Haigh 1996; Bretherton and Vogler 1999). That does not necessarily mean the EU has the capacity to engage in a straightforward public relations campaign. Rather, it can draw creatively on its own complex structures of decision making to argue important decisions are made through a process of extensive deliberation. For example, the Council and the Commission have plenty to gain by emphasizing the importance of ‘multi-level governance’ and the consensual approach to politics that is implicit in this approach (see below).
The question of leadership is central to attempts by organizations like the EU to secure legitimacy for themselves by playing a key part in enhancing cooperation between nations (Beetham and Lord, 1998). In that regard the issue of climate change provides a valuable case study. For example, UNCED, the largest international gathering of this kind with delegates from 178 countries, provided an extraordinary opportunity for exercising leadership. This was reinforced by the choice of Rio de Janeiro as the venue, which recognized the importance of less developed countries in environmental strategies. The EU was the clear winner in public relations, given the reluctance by the US to enter a binding treaty on emissions, and pledges by EU nations to reduce their emissions unilaterally.
Assuming leadership on the world stage is as an enticing prospect for politicians of established nation states as it is for those operating in supranational institutions. The general imperative driving EU policy in recent years is the effort to assume ‘a leadership role in global environmental politics’ (Baker 2000: 304) in order to strengthen the EU’s legitimacy (Haigh 1996; Baker 2000). The question of legitimacy arises in different guises. In Australia, for instance, governments have aroused fears about job security and economic competitiveness to justify their ‘tough’ stance on emissions.
The EU’s capacity to enact climate change policies is largely contingent on its distinctive political, constitutional and administrative structures. These include the Court of Justice (which interprets and ensures adherence to laws), Council (of representatives from different Member States), Commission (of members appointed by national governments) and European Parliament (Macrory and Hession 1996). As noted above, formal and explicit recognition of environmental policy as an area of legitimate concern by the EU occurred only in 1987 (Single European Act). Furthermore, although the Maastricht (1992) and
Amsterdam (1997) treaties strengthened the legal basis for environmental policy, Article 3b of the Maastricht Treaty created an important restriction on centralized influence over policy by emphasizing the principle of subsidiarity. This means although the EU may attempt to play a pivotal role in formulating climate change policies on behalf of several hundred million people, it must also consider the views of 15 Member States wary of encroachments on their sovereignty.
The EU is therefore engaged in an ongoing legal and political tussle with nation states over questions of competence (Bretherton and Vogler 1999: 88). Though this impedes its role in climate change negotiations and implementing promises, the EU has persisted in carving out a leading role in negotiations. The EU struggled to gain recognition at UNCED in 1992 (Butt Philip 1999: 269). It had to undertake ‘what one DGXI official described as a “huge battle” with Member States arising from the possible implication for the EC’s status at the UN’ (Bretherton and Vogler 1999: 91; see also Haigh 1996: 155). These struggles do not appear so far to have made a major dent in efforts to present the EU and the Member States as world
‘leaders’ in promoting measures to tackle climate change. At times the struggles (as at COP6 in The Hague over whether or not to adopt a tough stance on limiting the introduction of market mechanisms, on the use of carbon sinks and on how to enforce compliance) leave the EU open to attack by opponents of European positions on climate change. But there are contrasting examples – for instance, at the 1995 Conference of Parties in Berlin, the Member States ‘remained the most proactive’ and operated ‘as a group’ (Grubb 1995:3). However, the ‘Achilles heel’ of their efforts at leadership lies in the lack of an ‘agreed internal strategy and clear line of responsibility for actually delivering the ambitious declaratory targets for greenhouse gas emissions’ (Bretherton and Vogler 1999: 104).
In some respects, the multi-level character of governance in the EU has created the impression of consensual and apolitical decisions, if not operating like a typical nation state with narrow interests and of being internationalist. This international character of its approach, and certainly the understandable perception of the EU as an international actor by other agencies, has reinforced the view of its leading role in global environmental diplomacy.
How does one reconcile these contrasting perspectives on coordination, integration and capacity to act as a leading actor in global environmental diplomacy?
First, there is a story to tell about the immense complexity of the EU, summed up in the argument there is a
‘system of environmental governance’ that is ‘multi-level, horizontally complex, evolving and incomplete’
(Weale et al 2000: 6). The basis for this account derives from the ‘new governance’ literature of the 1990s that emphasized the unique characteristics of the EU. In reviewing this literature Hix (1998: 38) refers to the notion of ‘sui generis’, to the idea the EU is not a state but ‘a unique system of non-hierarchical, regulatory and deliberative governance’, not open to comparison with other political systems. Among the
proponents of this line of thinking are writers like Jachtenfuchs (1995: 115) who refers to the ‘polycentric and non-hierarchical’ relationship between the state and non-state actors (see Hix 1998: 39). Another important consideration is the absence of a ‘central agenda-setting or co-ordinating actor, like the chief executive in a presidential system or the governing party in a parliamentary system’ (Hix 1998: 39 referring to Peters 1994). The end result according to these writers is a transformation of governance (Kohler-Koch 1996) and the evolution of a unique system of ‘multi-level governance’ (Marks, Hooghe and Blank 1996).
The complexity and ‘multi-governance’ story is an enticing one. After all, the EU does have distinctive institutions. They are complex. They are evolving. They do appear to represent a unique experiment in transnational governance. Furthermore, there is the uncertainty surrounding the precise shape and form of the institutions as new members join the club, the forces it needs to overcome to achieve some of its objectives and the lack of institutional history (a mere 50 years). All these factors warrant the attribution of a distinct label. Multi-level governance seems to capture the complexity of the traditional and unique characteristics of the EU.
There are, as Weale et al (2000: 6) point out, the multiple layers of influence in decision-making at the national and sub-national as well as the EU levels. There is the complexity of having numerous actors at different levels and the efforts to achieve a balance in the division of power and authority between them.
There are ongoing disputes about who holds authority or competence for taking initiatives and making decisions.
Despite this complexity and uncertainty about the evolution of the EU, the assumption of it being sui generis may come at a price. Arguments centred on notions of new governance may simply serve as a tool for describing certain unique features of the EU without probing into the fundamental mechanisms that render political systems either effective or highly ineffective.
There is at least one account that suggests the EU may simply be ‘an unusual version of an old model’ of governance (Hix 1998: 39). In other words, it is similar to any political system since it has formal rules for making decisions and an increasingly bicameral legislature; a system for redistributing resources; the mobilization of citizens in electoral contests, referenda and lobbying or social movement activity and salience of traditional Left-Right political alignments around issues including the environment (Hix 1998:
41-3): ‘In sum, whereas a new governance conception of the EU emphasizes the informal nature of the policy process, the non-hierarchical structure of the institutions and the non-redistributive nature of policy outputs, this alternative conception sees politics and government in the EU as ‘not inherently different to ...
any democratic political system’ (Hix 1994: 1)’ (Hix 1998: 43).
The value of this approach is in challenging the predominant sui generis angle, which appears to obviate the possibility of using some of the explanations applied to studying classical forms of government to EU institutions. Rather than arguing for direct comparisons between the EU and other governments, Hix argues for a case study approach that uses ‘explanations of phenomena that exist in all political systems:
such as executive-legislative relations, policy-making, interest representation, public opinion, voting and party behaviour’ (1998: 46).
Furthermore, Hix questions the agenda of the proponents of the new governance on the grounds the EU is not an apolitical entity. It contains all the elements of traditional ‘politics and government’ (for instance, executive, legislative and judicial powers) and as in all ‘political systems’ the ‘key determinants of political outcomes are the spatial locations of the actors, strategic bargaining between these positions, and the identity of the agenda-setters and veto-players’ (Hix 1998: 55). Whereas the new governance writers highlight the notions of transparency, efficiency and consensus in achieving legitimacy, Hix draws attention to ‘competition over inputs: by allowing Europe’s citizens to choose between rival programmes and élites in a partisan European-wide contest’ (1998: 55). Although existing competition (for instance, for the European Parliament) does not meet this criterion, developing the mechanisms for such competition may be crucial to rendering the institutions of the EU more democratic ‘via EU referendums or even direct election of the Commission President’ (1998: 55).
The metaphor of ‘multi-level governance’ has considerable value in describing certain aspects of the prevailing state of affairs. However, as Hix suggests, there is a need to explore more fully ‘the connection between politics (i.e. public opinion, party competition, dimensions of conflict) and government (i.e. the policy-making and legislative processes)’ (1998: 55). Furthermore, one needs to draw on explanations derived from ‘politics and government’ to explain some of the limits and possibilities for global environmental diplomacy. This is not to argue that existing politics and government approaches present the optimal solutions to perceived problems but merely to focus on the most plausible explanations for prevailing courses of action or inaction.
In the end, traditional measures of political success or failure will apply. Although the EU has played a leading role in global environmental diplomacy, this could turn out to be a problem if it does not follow through with substantial reforms or fails to demonstrate the strong nexus between environment and industrial development.
Notwithstanding gaps between rhetoric and performance and creative efforts by some commentators to evoke an organization that is apolitical and consensual, the EU does play a crucial role ‘in shaping international response to the problem of climate change’ and being ‘a leading protagonist for a stringent international regime’ (Baker 2000: 328). The EU may be setting higher standards for everyone, including
itself, articulating the issue on political agendas and securing moral and political legitimacy for more action (Beetham and Lord 1998).
How Australia has engaged with sustainable development
The importance of studying distinct institutional and historical traditions either of a nation state or such a transnational organization as the EU cannot be overstated when it comes to moving away from binary codes and conflicts evoked by many commentators. Interestingly, just as in the EU, issues of legitimacy are central to the evolution of environmental policy in Australia. Rather than occurring in a vacuum, the changes outlined below reflected the importance of environmental policy to a significant number of voters.
In particular, there was a decisive shift in opinion between February and June 1989 – triggered largely by increasing concern about climate change and by the unforeseen success of the Green Independents in Tasmania, where they attracted nearly 20 per cent of the vote (see Papadakis 1996: 172-3). This heralded a clear warning to both major parties to take the environment seriously or risk losing office. Furthermore, ever since 1983, when the environment was first exploited as a major election issue at the Federal level, the preferences of green parties and recommendations by green political organizations became crucial to Labor’s success. Labor was therefore especially keen to adopt such notions as sustainable development as a way of reconciling environmental and economic objectives,
In tracking the evolution of policy in Australia, one is also able to use the kind of criteria applied to EU Member States, including the pioneering ones. These criteria have been developed by such writers as Jänicke (1997) and Jänicke and Weidner (1997: 147), who assume strategies for environmental capacity building vary according to different types of regime and their stage of development. New strategies are adopted as environmental advocates expand. The first set of responses is reactive and generally involves regulation or technical approaches to environmental dilemmas. The final stage, ‘ecological modernisation’, constitutes a deep-seated response. In this stage technical innovation makes it economically efficient and competitive for industry to adopt environmentally friendly practices, green enterprises play an increasingly prominent role in the economy, and there are significant changes in patterns of production and consumption.
Application of this framework to Australia is implicit in accounts that draw on neo-corporatist theory. It is explicit in analyses of institutional change by Papadakis (1996; 2000) and Papadakis and Young (2000).
For instance, in evaluating environmental capacity in the 1950s one finds a lack of Commonwealth government responsibility for the environment. This reflects its omission in the Constitution, making it a residual power and therefore placing it within the sphere of influence of state governments. This corresponded to an absence of institutional mechanisms to protect and manage the environment, and the predominance of economic development coupled with low priority to environmental issues. Efforts by the
states to attract foreign capital and avoid regulations that might deter investment meant there was a minimal foundation for a system of national parks and rudimentary legislation to protect flora and fauna.
To overcome this neglect, by the mid-1960s, state governments accepted some responsibility for regulations like air pollution laws. Catalysts for change from other countries included the 1952 killer fog in London, nuclear weapons testing (by the United States, Soviet Union and Britain), the 1967 Torrey Canyon oil spill, and publication of Silent Spring, The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth. Among intellectual elites and commentators as well as social movements there were strong proponents in Australia for an overhaul of prevailing economic, political and social structures that generated exploitative and unsustainable attitudes to the environment.
The response by governments in advanced industrial nations, including Australia, was cautious rather than accepting of radical prescriptions. They acknowledged some problems and the need for regulation.
However, the approach was to use well-established techniques of ‘administrative rationalism’, which entails using existing bureaucratic expertise and mechanisms (see Dryzek 1997) and viewing environmental issues as ‘minor, technical, soluble and politically uncontentious’ (Jacobs 1997: 3). There were official inquiries into air and water pollution, the Office of the Environment was created in 1971 and the Australia Environment Council in 1972 and from 1972 Environmental Impact Statements became mandatory in assessing Cabinet decisions of environmental importance. State governments established their own laws and agencies. With the election of the Whitlam Labor government (1972-75) there was further consolidation of initiatives, and an attempt to realise electoral promises to address quality-of-life issues (Papadakis 1996). Reforms included establishment of a separate government department to deal with environmental issues and of a Department of Regional and Urban Development; creation of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Australian Heritage Commission; a new commitment to international treaties on the environment; and provision of a legislative basis for the Environmental Impact Statement in 1974 with the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act.
However, even in the late 1970s, environmental policy relied on ad hoc responses to many issues. The environment was not integrated into economic decision making and when conflicts did arise between environment and economic portfolios, the former usually lost out (Young 1994: chapter 4). There was limited appreciation of the values underlying the critique by environmentalists, especially among state governments.
The transformation of government institutions in the 1980s appeared to follow the pattern posited by Jänicke and Weidner of increasing efforts among developed nations to address environmental problems.
New institutions were created integrating economic and environmental concerns at Commonwealth, state and local government levels. In the 1990s government enacted broad legislation for environmental
protection, and new laws like the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill 1998 enshrined in legislation for the first time the promotion of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD).
Despite impediments in institutional structures, like potentially conflicting roles of levels of government and lack of effective coordination (Productivity Commission. 1999), a ‘whole of government’ approach was introduced, at least in principle. Furthermore, governments improved the knowledge base about the state of the environment (SEAC 1996) and economic costs and benefits of pursuing certain actions. Some institutional innovations broadened and intensified capacity to integrate various considerations into policy, notably the Resource Assessment Commission (RAC), which attempted to take into account economic, cultural, social, scientific, ecological and recreational values.
Similarly, the ESD working groups represented an effort to combine international debates about sustainable development with Prime Minister Hawke’s unique style of ‘consensus’ politics (Economou 1996). The promise to accommodate environmental and economic goals became the central plank of environment policy. A further initiative under this broad rubric was the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD), which attempted to coordinate efforts by public institutions to deal with environmental issues. The process of formulating a strategy was assisted by a November 1991 agreement among Heads of Government to create an intergovernmental ESD Steering Committee. In December 1992 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), comprising the leaders of federal, state and territory governments and the President of the Local Government Association, endorsed the NSESD. The recommendations of the ESD working groups and the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE) (May 1992) became the basis for developing policy. As the most authoritative association for intergovernmental cooperation, involvement by COAG was vital in ensuring principles of sustainable development were applied to all levels of government.
As noted earlier, these fundamental changes reflected the political importance of environmental policy.
The language of ESD along with efforts to enhance central co-ordination of policy and recognition of the inter-related character of problems matches the conjectures by Jänicke and Weidner about increasing government capacity for environmental protection. This occurs when government institutions are open to non-governmental actors, policy coordination occurs across tiers of government and between government agencies, non-government actors are integrated in the policy process and a cooperative style is put in place.
Yet, the promise of ESD was only partially realised (SEAC 1996: 15) and most recommendations of the ESD working groups were not implemented (Productivity Commission 1999). There persisted fragmentation and compartmentalisation of government departments and tiers of administration (SEAC 1996: 11). Much of the impetus for environmental reform was lost in debates over economic reform and, from 1991-2, many environmental advocates were defending any gains they had achieved rather than extending the boundaries of statutory intervention.
The advent of a Coalition government in 1996 led to the creation of a $1.25 billion Natural Heritage Trust, funded through partial privatisation of Telstra. This allowed the government to realise a national vegetation plan, rehabilitate the Murray-Darling River Basin, conduct a national land and water resources audit, establish a national reserve system and tackle pollution of the coast and seas. The government also supported a process to identify links between the NSESD and other policies and initiatives (like the IGAE, the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, the formation of the Australian Greenhouse Office and the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity). Other initiatives associated with the NSESD include the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Strategy, the Commonwealth Major Projects Facilitation initiative, and the National Forest Policy Statement.
However, subsequent reviews highlighted failures to establish policies on threats to biodiversity;
inadequate efforts to reverse the decline in fish stocks; land clearing; ineffective efforts to tackle urban sprawl; transportation and energy consumption issues; falling short of commitments to reduce greenhouse gases; and questionable reforms of the electricity industry, which resulted in lower prices and increases in CO2 emissions (OECD 1998).
Proponents of a coordinated approach to statutory intervention note the success of the Department of the Environment in extending its range of activities beyond its own programs to influence other Departments – in setting guidelines for purchasing products and setting standards, heritage programmes, creation of a
‘green corps’ programme for young people to work in environmental conservation projects, educational material for schools and professional development for teachers. Furthermore, although conflicts persist between Departments focusing on either industry or the economy, they are far less severe than previously.
In part this reflects increasing recognition of the co-existence of environmental and economic objectives.
Another consideration, which relates less to notions of statutory intervention and more to a focus on trade liberalisation, is that ‘most decision makers’ believe ‘the wealth created by economic activities will overcome environmental effects’ (OECD 1998: 8). This has several consequences. It diminishes inter- departmental conflict over environmental issues (compared to the 1980s). It entails re-evaluation of statutory intervention traditions. On the one hand there is pressure for refinement of economic and regulatory instruments (through greater use of product charges, deposit refunds and emission trading and the adoption of the user pays principle in areas like waste management and waste water treatment for achieving sustainable development (see OECD 1998: 2)). On the other hand it means promoting more than ever the capacity of business and free markets to address problems (see Hawken et al 2000). It is therefore unsurprising to find Commonwealth and state governments promoting notions like ‘light-handed regulation’ (Andrews 2000a), emissions trading (Hillman 2000b; 2001b) and sustainable industries (Commonwealth of Australia 2000a: 43).
Why the commonalities are more striking than the differences
The story of environmental policy development in Australia and the EU is full of surprises – the shift in values to include quality of life and environmental issues in the 1960s, green political movements in the 1970s, the salience of green political issues in electoral contests, the chameleon like character of established political parties in adopting much of the green agenda, the capacity of conservative and labour parties and politicians (Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Helmut Kohl in Germany, the Labor and Liberal Parties in Australia) to appreciate the political salience of green issues, the rapid adoption of notions of sustainable development and ecological modernisation, and the linkages between neo-liberal policy in the form of market-based instruments and renewed efforts to address fundamental environmental problems.
Perhaps the most striking feature about all these surprises, given the apparent divergence in approaches between the EU and Australia, is the commonality between both jurisdictions. It is, as if, in focusing on the conflicts or on the apparently divergent approaches of Australia and the EU to climate change, commentators have overlooked some obvious features, which are similar histories in the evolution of public opinion, social movements, political parties and changes in the attitudes and behaviours of key interest groups, including industrial and business interests. Of course the precise timing of many of these developments has varied between nations both within Europe and between Europe and Australia. It is interesting to read competing accounts of whether or not the world’s first ‘green party’ was formed in New Zealand or Australia or the Netherlands or Germany or Britain.
The reality is the underlying trends have been very similar. There are certainly time lags both in the influence of ideas and the adoption of policies. Yet, adopting a historical perspective serves to dissipate considerably some of the sharp contrasts evoked by media and academic commentators. The remainder of this paper focuses on some of the striking commonalities.
Principles relating to climate change
Among the most important similarities between the EU and Australia are the following. Both accept climate change is a problem and signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Both accept the precautionary principle. Both understand the importance of a differentiated approach for political and economic reasons. Furthermore, despite rhetoric about global leadership, both jurisdictions have similar ideological constructs and material practices for dealing with emissions. One of these practices is to try and increase cooperation between agencies given ‘complex, longer term, and structurally rooted problems associated with sustainable development implementation’ (see Meadowcroft, 2000).
Balancing trade and economic development with environmental considerations
Another pivotal consideration is the strong tradition of economic development and exploitation of natural resources in each jurisdiction, as well as struggles to balance these traditions with modern environmental objectives (Papadakis 1996; Baker 2000). Much effort has flowed into plans like the National Strategy for Sustainable Development in Australia and the EU’s recent Environment Action Programmes. Both plans promote integration of environmental factors into all policy areas, use of market and regulatory instruments to shape behaviour, and partnership between government and community. Each jurisdiction has developed strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions. Each has established mechanisms to provide information on the state of the environment: in the EU this role is assigned to the European Environment Agency, in Australia the government created an independent State of the Environment Advisory Council.
Problems of coordination
In both jurisdictions environment agencies take their responsibilities seriously but remain relatively weak in hierarchies of influence. Official accounts (like EU reports to the Commission for Sustainable Development on implementing Agenda 21 and reviews of the 5th Environmental Action Programme, and the 1999 Productivity Commission Report in Australia) highlight gaps between rhetoric and reality, and failures to coordinate policies (see O’Riordan and Jäger, 1996; Butt Philip, 1999; Baker, 2000; Productivity Commission, 1999). Given perceptions of ‘leaders’ and ‘laggards’, one of the most surprising parallels between the two jurisdictions concerns trends in emissions, with Australia and most EU countries failing to achieve original targets of stabilising CO2 levels by 2000. Although Australia and the EU have established mechanisms to implement climate change policies, reductions in emissions in one area tend to be undermined by increases in another (eg. more traffic on roads).
Rethinking economic competitiveness
This arises from shared preoccupations in the EU and Australia with maintaining ‘economic competitiveness’ based on assumptions of the old economy. Just as the EU has retreated from commitments to setting unilateral targets on greenhouse gas emissions, and, like most other countries, strongly articulated the logic of economic competitiveness, Australia has been equally vocal in arguing, even after winning concessions at Kyoto, it faces harsh economic competition.
Seminal works and concepts in shaping attitudes
When it comes to attitudes that have shaped a generation of environmentalists and then policy makers it is hard to go beyond the seminal work entitled of Rachel Carson published in 1962 under the title of Silent Spring – a landmark scientific study written by a marine biologist who had previously worked for the United States government. This passionate account changed perceptions across the world about the chemical industry (and industry in general) from that of a benign force in promoting progress and prosperity to that of arrogance, characteristic of neglectful and exploitative attitudes to nature. Yet, even though the work attracted huge publicity across the world, its impact on mainstream media perceptions in