PM's hidden APEC emissions agenda
Has the Prime Minster already outflanked Kevin Rudd on climate change? Despite the focus on the global warming issue, by the time the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit is held in Australia, the Opposition Leader may have no policy left.
ALP strategists would be hoping Kevin Rudd's elevation would neutralise foreign affairs as an election issue. As Labor's foreign affairs spokesman since 2001, his understanding of this policy area should be considerable, and elections are rarely fought on foreign policy.
Yet, the context of the next federal election is likely to make foreign affairs a headache for Rudd. He may have much of this headache for himself. He has already outlined climate change as one of his key attack points against the Government.
Climate change will be central to the context of the next election. If there is any doubt about the contribution of context, just ask Kim Beazley about the 2001 election.
It presents a significant challenge for the Coalition. Regardless of the science, climate change is a policy issue that is resonating.
The politics of climate change is played on its opponent's turf. This is more true than ever: Rudd's widely acknowledged strength is foreign policy.
Rudd has tried to boost Labor's climate change credentials with the promotion of Peter Garrett as Opposition spokesman on the subject. But by the election, Labor will have little room to move. The politics of climate change is as much about the environment as the economy. The Howard Government is acutely aware of how an obsession with carbon dioxide reduction targets must correlate with job losses.
Australia will host APEC next year. There is no set date for the 2007 election, but dates in October or November are likely because of the APEC summit in September. It is protocol that an election cannot be called while a foreign head of state is in the country.
The APEC ministerial and bureaucratic forums will be held throughout 2007. At present the only meeting that gets any serious attention is the summit - when John Howard, George Bush and all the Asian leaders stand in a line and wear funny outfits.
Howard will use APEC to support his electoral prospects. He has already indicated he will use APEC to establish a new climate-change pact. It is the perfect forum. APEC includes economies that are or will be the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world.
More importantly, it is a forum where Europe is not at the table. The Kyoto Protocol failed because it was an agreement written for Europe. Kyoto suited Europe because it didn't undermine their energy production. Targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions are unsustainable for developing economies or economies dependent on coal, such as Australia.
They are not prepared to sacrifice economic growth and keep people trapped in poverty.
With Europe off the negotiating table, they will be bystanders. They will be locked out of negotiating the framework for one of the most important international pacts for the next 20 years. It will also mean the focus will shift from reducing carbon emissions through reduction targets to use of technology.
Meanwhile, Australia, the US and the major developing economies of Asia will endorse a pact that promotes growth, reduces emissions and is sensitive to alleviating poverty. The focus will be on developing, using and sharing technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
This will leave Labor with limited options. Rudd cannot harp on about Kyoto. It is already yesterday's agreement, with so many European economies failing to meet their emissions targets. The prospect of a new international agreement with the endorsement of the US and Asia will ensure it is officially buried.
And the Labor leader has already signalled his opposition to nuclear power. He cannot side with Europe and its emissions targets unless he is prepared to embrace a nuclear future. Such a proposition would tear federal Labor apart. It would also put federal Labor at odds with state Labor governments.
Targets will also provide ample evidence to the Coalition to aim at areas where Labor prioritises appeasing the Greens over keeping their jobs. Mark Latham learnt this lesson the hard way. Rudd will be forced to either support the pact or look like a pariah.
Howard can then call an election and bask in the images run on television of presidents Bush and Hu applauding his efforts. He will be able to crow that Australia has punched above its weight in securing one of the most important environmental pacts in history. And he will have demonstrated his capacity to marry relations between the current and emerging superpowers.
Howard will also be able to take quiet, personal satisfaction that he will have finally killed Paul Keating's image as Australia's big man in Asia. Rudd, the new head of Keating's party, will only be able to watch.