Australia's Fossil-Fuelled Diplomacy
Updated: Aug 6
For most of my career as a diplomat and Ambassador, I took pride representing Australia as a multicultural Asia-Pacific democracy. But a dark cloud was always looming – our unhealthy dependence on exporting and investing in fossil fuels. I hoped things might change with the Albanese government. But sadly, it has continued to approve new coal and gas projects. It's high time to reevaluate the course we chart for Australia on the global stage. We must break free from the fossil fuels that misshape of our foreign policy interests.
Australia's deep-seated dependence on fossil fuels seems to have made us vulnerable and asleep to a dangerous game – one where successive governments feel compelled to defend the status quo and turn a blind eye to the growing climate catastrophe. A significant driver lies in the way fossil fuels have deeply embedded themselves in our foreign policy. Across the globe, our Ambassadors are expected to promote massive fossil fuel projects and exports. While the climate collapses in front of our eyes, our foreign policy continues to support the fossil fuel industry and its relentless growth of emissions. Over the last fifteen years, the government's peak export promotion body, Export Finance Australia, has helped underwrite global heating by providing $1.7 billion to fossil fuel firms. In contrast, it offered a paltry $20 million to renewable energy companies. It's time we confront this influence head-on and prioritise the wellbeing of our citizens and the planet over profits.
Australia's foreign policy decisions on climate continue to be criticised on the international stage, and our refusal to break free from fossil fuels has strained relationships with our neighbours, particularly Pacific islands which bear the brunt of climate-induced disasters. The Pacific looks to us for support and leadership, but our persistence in pushing on with massive fossil fuel subsidies and projects is leading to diplomatic tensions and undermining regional solidarity. Australia gives more money to the fossil fuel industry than it does to the Pacific in either aid or climate finance! That's awkward.
Of course, our fossil-fuelled foreign policy is not a one-sided affair. We must acknowledge the pressure and influence exerted by countries like Japan and India on the demand side. Lagging on decarbonisation and facing their own energy security worries, these countries are actively leaning on Australia to maintain and indeed grow our supply of fossil fuels. In a climate emergency, we must not succumb to undue pressure and let ourselves be bullied. Safety of the planet demands that our remaining coal and gas stay in the ground.
While many nations forge ahead with green technologies, rapid decarbonisation and zero-emissions foreign policy, Australia risks being left behind and alienating itself. We are clinging to toxic energy sources of the past and will increasingly be blamed for their dangerous impacts. That's why we must rapidly decarbonise more than our economy. Australia must break free from fossil-fuelled diplomacy if we are to secure our prosperity, security and place in a rapidly evolving geopolitical world.