Former US vice-president Al Gore has told Fairfax Media that “history will not be kind” to politicians who stand in the way of climate action, and he expected President Barack Obama would raise the issue with Tony Abbott when the two leaders met on Wednesday at the White House.
“I am not a citizen of Australia and I don’t feel I have the privilege of entering your political debate,” said Mr Gore.
Australia lagging behind on climate change: expert
Australia's direct action response is much weaker than policies being adopted by other countries, including the US and China, says Professor Michael Raupach.
“But we have had deniers of the climate crisis in office in the US as well. History will not be kind to those who looked away, much less those who sought to prevent [action on climate change].”
Mr Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate-change activism, said he was aware that the Australian Prime Minister had once described climate-change science using “a scatological term” and that the Abbott government had de-funded bodies established to advise the government on climate change.
“I don’t pretend to know what the basis of his thinking is, but Mother Nature has a louder voice,” he said, referring to increasing incidences of severe weather.
Mr Gore said that although Mr Abbott had not asked for his advice, and was unlikely to do so, if he had a few minutes with the Prime Minister he would ask him to “think of your children and grandchildren, think of the people who are already suffering the consequences of the climate crisis".
He said Australia had among the best scientists in the world – perhaps the best on a per capita basis – and they agreed that the nation was bound to suffer among the worst consequences of climate change. Meanwhile, engineers agreed that it stood to reap huge economic and employment benefits from continued renewable energy development and the retrofitting necessary to transfer to a clean economy.
He said changes in Australia’s environment were not only being scientifically documented but were obvious to him as a regular visitor during Australia’s “angry summer”.
Mr Gore, who served as vice-president to Bill Clinton and later lost a presidential election to George W. Bush, said he had criticised President Obama for taking too little action on climate change during his first term. But he said Mr Obama had been an effective leader on climate change since his re-election.
Last week, Mr Obama proposed regulations that would cut carbon emissions from United States power plants by 30 per cent by 2030. Under the US Environmental Protection Agency regulations, states would be encouraged to use methods including carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes to reach their targets.
By contrast, Mr Abbott last week used his meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to underscore his opposition to such measures either domestically or through international bodies such as the G20.
Mr Gore spoke to Fairfax Media days before his scheduled visit to Australia to train environmental volunteer leaders through his Climate Reality Project. He said the training would take into account the recent actions of the Abbott government.
Speaking at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, Mr Abbott said climate change was not the world's most pressing problem.
''There is no argument about the need for strong action on climate change. There is some argument about the best way to achieve that … we are not going to have any rear-guard action in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme in Australia. We're going to take direct action to get our emissions down,'' he said.