Trade agreements could include commitments on climate change as bushfires highlight Australia’s weak climate action

January 6, 2020: The global response to Australian bushfires suggest that Australia will face strong international pressure to increase its action on climate change, including by transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Media reports across the world have made the link between climate change and the bushfires, criticising both the Australian government’s response to the fires and its failure to take action to address climate change.

The reports refer to Australia’s high per capita greenhouse gas emissions and criticise the government’s ongoing support for coal production and its recalcitrance at the UN climate meeting in Madrid in December 2019 where it worked with the USA and Brazil to block any genuine action on climate change.

The reports suggest that Australia will face increasing international pressure to address climate change, including in some trade negotiations. Herve Lemahieu, the director of the Lowy Institute's Asian Power and Diplomacy Program, suggests that Australia’s climate policy could impact on its ongoing trade negotiations with the EU. He argues that the agreement may face ratification challenges in the EU, if countries are concerned about Australia’s inadequate approach to climate change. In September last year, Austrian lawmakers rejected a trade agreement between the EU and the South American block of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina (Mercosur) in response to the Amazon fires in Brazil.

The EU has already suggested including a reference to the Paris agreement in the FTA with Australia and in November last year France's Foreign Minister stated that the FTA should include "highly ambitious" action on climate change.