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WAS 2013 THE



REAL? By Christopher Shaw

Chris Shaw argues that the two degrees target is contributing to climate apathy among world leaders

Up until the late summer of 2013 climate policy was, Julia Gillard, who set about reforming the resource tax into just another toothless
in the English speaking world at least, nothing more piece of climate legislation.
than a polite parlour game.
False hope
Once it became apparent, circa 1988, that the speed and Most climate policy of the past 25 years has the same kind of relationship to the
extent of the industrial transformation of our atmosphere radical responses demanded by the science as a charades mime has to the flm or
could no longer be ignored, charismatic political fgures book which the players are being asked to guess.
set about showing the world they were taking the issue
seriously. The academic Ingolfur Bludhorn has described this simulacrum of meaningful action
as ‘symbolic politics’.
In the UK the Prime Minister has engaged in symbolic
photo shoots riding skidoos across the Arctic ice. In the He argues that symbolic politics, whilst as old as society itself, has reached new levels
US, Vice president Al Gore made a flm about climate of signifcance as the challenges facing humanity become more complex. But, he
change, and Obama has spoken about the need for suggests, symbolic politics can only get us so far. At some point reality catches up
action. with the symbolism, and the chickens come home to roost.

Even George W. Bush, in explaining his decision to not The end game for symbolic climate change politics has arrived. But rather than
ratify the Kyoto protocol, still felt it necessary to play the replacing the pretence of symbolic climate politics with meaningful policies, we are
game, and stressed the need for the US to “diversify seeing the reverse, the rejection, in the Anglo Saxon world at least, of climate politics
away from fossil fuels.” in all its forms, symbolic or otherwise.
The then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, having The new Australian Prime Minister has consigned climate change to the dustbin of
declared climate change “the greatest moral, economic policy making.
and social challenge of our time” signed Australia up to
the Kyoto Protocol in 2007. In September George Osborne, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, proclaimed that
he didn’t want the UK to be at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change, (an
However, his move from this empty symbolism into amusing statement, a bit like my Gran saying she doesn’t want to compete in the
real climate policy proved his downfall; when Rudd Olympics 100 metres fnal.)
attempted to impose a resource tax, the mining
companies fought back and Labour, desperate to Then, on Monday 30 September, following the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment
appease their paymasters, promptly replaced him with Report, the UK government’s Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, told delegates

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