The dilemma of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on climate change in advance of the United Nations Copenhagen summit illustrates a problem that President Barack Obama may face as well.
Mr. Rudd is a strong supporter of the need for decisive, coordinated international action to deal with global warming. He thus wanted to go into the Copenhagen summit that will begin next week with a solid Australian position in hand.
Unfortunately for him, his Labor Party does not hold a majority in the Senate, the upper house of Australia's legislature. The opposition coalition there has recently chosen a new leader, Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party, who is a resolute non-believer in global warming. He holds this position in spite of some of the extremes of climate that Australia experiences, most recently, as example, its red dust storm in September. Thus, the Senate has so far rejected legislation on an emissions trading plan that Mr. Rudd could carry to Copenhagen.
One thought in Australia is that Mr. Rudd could call an election to try to change the lineup of political forces in Canberra. But that cannot be done in time for the Copenhagen meeting. The other problem is that, asked to vote with climate change as the principal issue, Australian voters might turn against Mr. Rudd and his party, although their popularity is high.
Mr. Obama also will be going to Copenhagen, with congressional action on global warming nowhere near passage. It's right that he go to the summit anyway. U.S. reticence on the subject would be damaging to overall prospects for effective international action. At the same time, there is the risk that Congress will not pass the legislation needed to put into effect whatever pledge Mr. Obama may make there. In that case, his unfulfilled promise would become a political embarrassment.
It is interesting that there is still skepticism in a country like Australia over the phenomenon. Doubt is based to some degree on a belief that such temperature changes are cyclical, accompanied by concern over the financial costs of proposed measures to slow warming. This battle still has a long way to go before resolution.