The Australian
Dennis Shanahan
Saturday, November 5, 2011

Julia Gillard's introduction of a carbon tax has been praised at the latest economic summit for showing the way on climate change but Australia is being isolated within the G20 on carbon pricing as members retreat due to changing priorities and economic pressure.

As the government prepares to cut the carbon tax debate in the Senate to pass the bills with Greens' support, the final communique from the G20 summit in France recognises Australia's leading role on climate change.

But with the increased economic pressures from the global debt crisis and a shift in priority to food security, particularly in Africa, climate change action is dropping down the order of importance.

Critics of the G20's lack of action on climate change have praised Australia's action as "courageous'' and said the diminishing priority for climate change was a ``big problem for the G20''.

The shift at the G20 and the praise for Australia expected in the communique highlights the Gillard government's move ahead of the developed economies on carbon pricing.

While Australia is pursuing the most comprehensive carbon tax in the world to combat the effects of climate change, other G20 members are retreating from emissions trading schemes to cut greenhouse gas emissions, such as Canada, while others are giving greater emphasis to dealing with the immediate effects of climate change.

Host of the G20, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has emphasised sustainable growth, ``green'' job creation and food security in the lead-up to the Cannes meeting as part of a new emphasis on climate change.

The Greek debt crisis and eurozone discussions have also limited the time for discussion of climate change on the G20 agenda this week.

Senior fellow at the Canadian-based G20 watchdog, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Daniel Schwanen, told The Weekend Australian the praise for carbon tax "would not play well at home."

"It's courageous and innovative and has obviously learnt the lesson of every system that is out there,'' Mr Schwanen said.

He said the G20's crisis management meant that it did not deal well with longer-term issues and as far as climate change was concerned "Europe has other fish to fry'' and there were, as well, differences within the G20 membership.

"You now have Australia and Canada sitting at extremes and that's one reason why the G20 is not quite there on climate change,'' Mr Schwanen said.

"To come out with some strong statement about where we are going on climate change is not credible.

"I think the leadership of Australia should be acknowledged but it's not going to be a case of follow the leader.''

The business leaders attending the G20 summit in Cannes -- the B20 -- recommended support for action on climate change but stopped short of recommending carbon pricing, suggesting that helping developing nations with clean energy and carbon emissions control were also necessary.