SYDNEY — The trouble with hosting an international Greens convention is that the host country draws the criticism. Japan is still agonizing over the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Now Australia is left holding the bag following far-reaching pro-Kyoto support demonstrated at last week’s Canberra talkfest.
The Global Greens conference held in the national capital of Canberra generated enough heat to burn all the world’s virgin rain forests still untouched by the multinationals’ bulldozers. Whether the delegates from 70 countries shed enough light to shame the world’s polluters remains to be seen.
The delegates chose their venue well. Leafy Canberra, set among rolling hills and basking in autumn sunshine, is in such a pristine spot it deflects visitors’ eyes from the greenhouse emissions of industrial Sydney and Melbourne. But that did not fool the likes of Greenpeace.
Not far from Canberra, the forests are falling, much of the timber being wood-chipped to feed Japanese pulp and paper mills. But the delegates’ protests came less from Australian environmentalists — they are angry at the loss of Tasmania’s cool-climate rain forest and Queensland’s brigalow scrublands — than from Japanese Greens.
From the home of Harris Daishowa paper mill in Shizuoka Prefecture, Kiyoshi Matsuya lamented that Japan’s paper consumption is destroying Australian bushlands. He vowed to take “more concrete action” back home in a campaign against wood-chip imports. Shizuoka City Mayor Yasuku Hino claimed Japan’s timber plantations are badly managed. With the timber costly to extract, Tokyo has chosen instead to rely on imports. “We have to import wood chips from abroad while 70 percent of our land has forest,” he said. “Our forest industry has been lazy in making the attempt to use our own resources.”
Naturally, Australian Greens reveled in the support of the 40 Japanese delegates, calling it an example of the power of the global Green movement.
Political action was what the Canberra meeting was all about — and action on a grand scale. A proposed worldwide boycott against multinational oil companies dragged in the latest ogre, U.S. President George W. Bush.
“Exxon does not deserve a positive reputation when it is behind President Bush’s scuttling of the Kyoto Protocol,” announced Australia’s veteran Green, Sen. Bob Brown. “This leaves the world a total victim to future climate change because Exxon wants to continue making a profit.” Brown announced he would kick-start a global protest movement by going home and cutting up his government-issued Mobil service-station card.
Nor did he miss the chance to sideswipe Australian Prime Minister John Howard, seen here as a loyal ally of Bush’s push against Kyoto: “The Howard government had a choice between their grandchildren and the Bush administration and it’s chosen the Bush administration,” he said.
Canberra was really a dress rehearsal for protests against a final round of global political negotiations in July to decide whether the Kyoto Protocol lives or dies. Bush has put the skids under Kyoto, so, inevitably, he became the Canberra meeting’s be^te noire.
Producer of one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, the United States was lambasted as hypocritical and irresponsible. Nor did Australia, which negotiated in Kyoto to be allowed to raise emissions by 8 percent by 2012 while most industrialized countries have to lower theirs by 5 percent, escape censure.
A Howard letter to Bush, backing U.S. leadership in efforts to readdress global climate change, upset the Greens. Howard also wants the European Union to drop its opposition to a favorite Australian palliative, the planting of trees to offset poisonous industrial emissions.
But European Greens were among Howard’s loudest critics in Canberra. Didier Rod, a French member of the European Parliament, warned that Australia would be among the countries worst hit by global warming and rising oceans.
Labor politicians, keenly aware of this year’s national elections, are delighted. Nick Bolkus, opposition environment spokesman, says a Labor government will not follow Bush and isolate itself from the world. Bolkus predicts Green preference votes will be critical in the upcoming election. But Greens leader Brown is declining to do a deal with Labor unless opposition leader Kim Beazley takes a stronger line on Kyoto.
In New York and Washington last week, Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill talked with corporate and political leaders. Key to a resolution appears to be compromise with Europe, where the Green vote in domestic politics runs as high as 25 percent. Bush advisers also have one eye on domestic politics, where Green Ralph Nader snared 3 percent of the presidential vote.
Hill is under no illusions about the strength of European resolve. European Federation of Greens Parties president Pekka Haavisto told the Canberra convention all environmentalists had to use “all tools” to get the U.S. back to the negotiating table. Tools include targeting those multinationals pressing the Bush administration not to ratify Kyoto. Finnish veteran Green Haavisto, whose party is in a coalition government in Helsinki, put it well: “Consumer choice is something everyone can do.”
Green politics has come of age in the wake of Canberra. The meeting resolved to enforce an International Green Tribunal on oil issues and establish a World Environment Organization to match the much-criticized World Trade Organization. Delegates also endorsed the first Global Greens Charter to include an outline of objectives on climate change. The charter describes Kyoto-agreed gas reductions of 5 percent as “grossly inadequate” and aims for a 30 percent cut in emissions by 2020 and up to 90 percent by the end of the century.
The new Global Greens alliance comes amid growing worldwide support for environment issues in local politics. The alliance’s influence at next year’s U.N. Earth Summit in South African cannot be underestimated.
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