Wednesday, 17 December 2008 19:00 Patrick Goodenough Editorial Dept - Free Speech

It’s catching. Two days after an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush in a show of contempt during a Baghdad press conference, green activists in Australia borrowed the tactic to demonstrate their anger at government climate policy shifts.

Unlike the Iraqi shoe-flinger, however, the Australian protestors did not have an actual head of state in front of them to target with their shoes, so they had to make do with an impersonator.

During a public demonstration in front of the state legislature in the South Australia capital, Adelaide, protestors pelted an activist dressed up as Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with shoes.

Hurling shoes or even waving the soles – the dirtiest part of the footwear – at someone traditionally has been a sign of insult in some cultures, including Arab and Thai, but thanks to media coverage of the incident during Bush’s visit, the gesture is now understood far and wide.

Rudd campaigned on a green platform and his first official act on taking office last December was to sign instruments to ratify the Kyoto Protocol – reversing his conservative predecessor’s opposition to the climate change agreement and leaving the United States as the sole remaining Kyoto holdout.

Rudd did so on the eve of a U.N. climate change conference in Bali, where he was hailed as a hero.

A year later, however, he is being vilified after announcing in a policy “white paper” that his government aims to reduce emissions of “greenhouse gases” – carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases blamed for climate change – by levels far below those demanded by the climate change lobby.

Australia would aim for cuts of between five and 15 percent of 1990 emissions levels by 2020, he said. The upper range of that target would only be aimed for in the event of an agreement on a global post-Kyoto climate change pact.

By comparison, President-elect Obama has cited a 2020 goal of about 17 percent, the European Union has set a goal of 20 percent by then, and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is pushing for industrialized countries as a group to aim for 25-40 percent cuts.

The Adelaide protest was part of a series of nationwide protests Tuesday.

As the shoes were flying at “Rudd,” protestors called the prime minister’s announcement an embarrassment. There was little difference between Rudd and his predecessor, John Howard, said one Green Party lawmaker.

Howard and President Bush were alone among industrialized nations’ leaders to reject Kyoto, which applies to the period up until 2012 and requires leading economies to cut emissions by specified amounts.

They argued that compliance with Kyoto would harm their countries’ workers and economies, and also objected to the fact it did not require developing countries like China and India to meet targets, despite being significant emitters.

In a television interview Tuesday, Rudd’s minister for climate change policy, Penny Wong, defended the government, saying it was going to take time “to build a low pollution economy of the future.”

“People seem to be thinking that you can simply achieve a target by setting it,” she said. “You have to have a plan to get there.”

Australia, which is heavily reliant on coal, is the 15th biggest greenhouse gas emitter, according to U.N. figures. Based on per-capita emissions, it moves higher up the list.

Rudd is coming in for heavy flak.

More than 60 environmental and related groups condemned the government in a joint statement, accusing it of having “caved in to pressure from the big polluters.”

If adopted globally, the statement said, the targets identified by Australia “would steer the earth on a path towards catastrophic climate change.”

Greenpeace called his policies “pathetic” and said Rudd was betraying both “the science” and “the next generation who will have to live with climate change impacts.”

“In the space of a year Australia has gone from climate change hero to climate change under-achiever,” said WWF-Australia.

The Australian Conservation Foundation called the targets “weak” and “not credible,” while the Climate Action Network Association said the white paper was a “white flag” of surrender in the face of “dangerous climate change.”

Far from celebrating Rudd’s lower-than-expected targets, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said businesses would remain apprehensive about the impact of the polices contained in the white paper.

“While the government has attempted to soften the blow on the economy, the fact remains that even with the announced targets, both businesses and the community will be hit with very high costs of industry restructuring,” said the chamber’s chief executive, Peter Anderson.

He questioned the timing of the planned introduction of the environmental policies, “at a time when our economy is trying to stare down a global economic recession.”

Amid the global economic troubles, Rudd is not the first leader accused of backpedaling on climate change-related commitments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who used Germany’s E.U. presidency last year to promote tough emission reduction targets, is now pushing for exemptions for German industry.

With general elections due next year, German politicians face voters concerned about jobs and economic stability as well as about green issues.

An opinion poll released earlier this month found that three-quarters of German voters expect the economic crisis to get worse in the months ahead.

Patrick Goodenough,
International Editor,

Image and Editorial Courtesy of CNSNews - In this image from APTN video, an Iraqi journalist throws a shoe at President George W. Bush during a news conference with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008, in Baghdad. (AP Photo/APTN)

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