A Climate Focused Foreign Policy for Australia

We, a group of former Australian diplomats, call on Australia to adopt a new foreign, trade and development policy to meet the challenge of climate change.

Climate change is a global existential threat facing humanity, and an immediate national security threat facing Australia. Through the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow COP26 the world, including Australia, has agreed that all governments and peoples must work together to address this threat and to secure a safe, habitable planet for our descendants and future life. We welcome the reaffirmation at COP26 of the long-term goal of holding global average temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. 

Australia will face increasing international economic, financial and political pressure to do more to ensure this goal is met

Its people want to see decisive and urgent action by their federal, state and local governments on this front. This includes action to replace Australia’s fossil fuel dependence by exploiting our country’s potential to produce cheap and abundant renewable energy.

Australia has a choice: decisive domestic action on climate change – as advised by the best scientific and business minds - will help to mitigate the climate-induced natural disasters that our people and environment are already suffering. It will open significant economic and employment opportunities for Australians to provide the world with low-carbon commodity and manufactured exports as our major international markets increasingly demand. It will secure our reputation as a forward-leaning, reliable international partner with our major allies as well as our neighbours throughout the Indo-Pacific. It will give us the international credibility to push other major emitters to take more ambitious action.

Conversely a failure to act defers inevitable actions and imposes greater costs on future Australians. A failure to act will jeopardise our exports as other countries apply carbon border taxes or refuse to import carbon intensive products. It will jeopardise foreign investment and the ability of Australian companies to secure international finance as investors and financial institutions refuse to take on the high risks of financing carbon intensive products and projects. It will jeopardise our national security as allies and neighbours turn elsewhere for support in mitigating their own climate risk, and as our credibility as a negotiating partner diminishes. It will reduce our influence in international fora and undermine our ability to achieve our international objectives as allies, partners and competitors penalise us for not pulling our weight on climate change.

We therefore propose a framework to better address the climate change agenda in Australia’s foreign folicy, under which Australia should prioritise the following actions before the end of 2022:

  • affirm in legislation a commitment to achieving net-zero emissions at the latest by 2050
  • commit to strong nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, at least halving emissions by 2030
  • ban new fossil-fuel projects; end coal-fired electricity generation and coal mining by 2035; phase out the use of fossil-fuels and transition the economy to renewables as soon as possible
  • join global efforts to reduce methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (as well as CO2)
  • affirm in legislation the commitment to end deforestation by 2030, to strengthen nature-positive policies and programs, and support nature-based GHG abatement
  • support developing country partners across the Indo-Pacific to also reduce GHG emissions and transition their economies.

During 2022 Australia should commit to re-join the UN Green Climate Fund, doubling its total allocation of climate finance. Australia should champion the interests of small-island states via the fund. Australia should also commit to offering vulnerable Pacific Island nations a safe-refuge resettlement program for affected populations if their homelands become no longer habitable due to sea-level rise or other effects of climate change.

Beyond 2022, Australia’s foreign, trade and development agencies should review all policies and programs to ensure that they:

  • acknowledge the threat of climate change and global warming and the urgent need for action to reduce GHG emissions
  • do not undertake or support activities that result in any investment or funding for fossil-fuel projects
  • require participants, partners, suppliers and clients to ensure as far as possible that their activities are carbon-neutral and do not contribute to any increase in GHG emissions
  • support and promote exports of Australian green technology and expertise in renewable energy, green hydrogen, green ammonia and other green industrial processes; green agriculture and fisheries products; and all similar pro-climate business activities
  • support Australia’s development partners to achieve their objectives of reducing emissions and making the green economy transition.

Under a Climate-Focused Foreign Policy the Australian government should also:

  • establish bilateral and regional ministerial climate dialogues with key regional partners; and support one and two-track dialogues to discuss climate policy, best practice in emissions reduction, transitioning to a green economy and building climate-change resilient communities
  • promote the rapid adoption of renewable energy in the region through bilateral business dialogues on renewables and the green economy, funding support for Australian renewable energy exporters, supporting joint renewable energy R&D projects
  • refocus Australia’s aid programs to support development partners in their efforts to meet their Paris and COP commitments and support partner government agencies and civil society and business organisations to develop the regulations and skills needed to build green economies
  • appoint within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade an appropriately resourced Chief Climate Change Officer whose role is to ensure that the key principles above are implemented and audited across foreign, trade and development agencies.

Australian foreign, trade and development offices in Australia and overseas should:

  • be net-zero emissions compliant by 2030 wherever possible
  • use only electric or zero-emission vehicles by 2030
  • ensure all staff understand the key concepts of climate action, such as how to maintain net zero emissions compliant workplaces.

We acknowledge the complexity of climate change and its impacts on the planet, and that there are many different and often competing popular views on the priorities for action on climate change. We see an enduring need for enhanced public discussion of these issues, and for greater public education to assist Australians better understand the details and issues at stake, including the international and foreign policy perspectives.

We therefore urge the Australian government to work with all state and territory governments, expert academics, civil society organisations and communities, to develop a climate change public education program. This program should also normalise the values of respect for the deep knowledge of First Nations Peoples regarding the sustainable management of the environment; respect for the rights of future generations to enjoy a habitable, healthy, safe and biodiverse planet; and appreciation of the interconnectedness of global communities and understanding that what we do in our own backyard matters to others.

[email protected]

This document was published as a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday 8th December 2021. The following former diplomats and foreign, trade and development policy officers support this document as signatories:

Joanna Adamson

former High Commissioner to Ghana and Sierra Leone, Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Togo

Margaret Adamson

former Consul General Berlin; Deputy High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea; Ambassador to Poland and Czech Republic; Ambassador to Cambodia; High Commissioner to Pakistan

Dr Ruth Adler

former Ambassador to Ireland; High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam

Dennis Argall

former Ambassador to China; Minister Washington DC

Zena Armstrong

former Consul-General for Southern China, Guangzhou; former Counsellor, Australian Embassy, Beijing; former Assistant Secretary Environment Branch

Dr Kamal Azmi

former Counsellor (Development Cooperation), Australian High Commission, Solomon Islands; former Director, G20 Domestic Resources Mobilisation Section, DFAT

Dr John R Baker

former Australian High Commissioner to Tanzania

Allan Behm

former diplomat and Head of the International Policy and Strategy Divisions, Department of Defence

Dr Lucinda Bell

former Deputy High Commissioner to Bangladesh

Geoff Bentley

retired Ambassador

Dr Denis Blight AO

former diplomat; Honorary Visitor ANU School of History

Malcolm Brailey

former First Secretary, Australian Embassies Kabul and Jakarta

Dr Alison Broinowski AM FAIIA

former Counsellor, Australian Mission to the UN, New York; Acting President, Australians for War Powers Reform

Richard Broinowski AO

former Ambassador to Mexico; Ambassador to Vietnam; Ambassador to the Republic of Korea

Alex Brooking

former Ambassador to Hungary; former diplomat in Russia, Belgium, Germany, Nigeria and Poland

Penny Burtt

former Deputy High Commissioner Singapore; former CEO Asialink

Dr Jessie Byrne

former DFAT officer

Noel Campbell

former Ambassador to Argentina; Ambassador to Spain; Ambassador to United Arab Emirates; Ambassador to (former) Yugoslavia

John Carlson AM

former Director-General, Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (DFAT)

Greg Carmody

former Senior Trade Commissioner, Bangkok; Trade Commissioner, Seoul; Counsellor, OECD Delegation, Paris

Alex Cassie

former Second Secretary Australian Embassy Mexico

Kenneth Chan AM

former diplomat, Administrator of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands; and member of the Refugee Review Tribunal

Aron Corbett

former Consul Makassar, Indonesia

Susan Cox OAM

former Ambassador to Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau; Ambassador to Croatia

Peter Dawson

former Trade Commissioner Jakarta, Nairobi

Bob Desiatnik

former diplomat

Ralph Evans AO

former Chief Executive of Austrade

Douglas Foskett

former High Commissioner to Bangladesh; former Country Director International Organisation for Migration in Laos

Roger Frankel

former Ambassador to Venezuela

George Fraser

former High Commissioner to Nauru; High Commissioner to Kiribati; Ambassador to FSM, Marshall Islands and Palau

Janet Gardiner

former Ambassador to Syria; Ambassador to Portugal 

Max Gaylard

former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Africa and the Middle East; former High Commissioner to Solomon Islands

Anna George

former Ambassador to Croatia; Alternative Representative to the OPCW, The Hague

Anne Giles

former diplomat and DFAT officer

Susan Grace

former Ambassador to Nepal; Consul-General Chennai, India

Bruce Haigh

former Deputy Head of Mission Islamabad; Visiting Representative Kabul; Director Australia-South Africa Training Trust; member Refugee Review Tribunal

Robin Hamilton-Coates

former DFAT officer

Jeff Hart

former Ambassador and UN Official

Lawry Herron

former Ambassador to Poland; High Commissioner to Kenya; Legal Counsel IAEA; Member Refugee Review Tribunal

Paul Hohnen

former Deputy High Commissioner Sri Lanka, former diplomat in Paris OECD, Fiji (South Pacific Forum Secretariat) and EU (Brussels)

Lucinda Holdforth

former DFAT officer

Peter Hooton

former High Commissioner to Samoa and Solomon Islands; Deputy Permanent Representative to UNEP Nairobi

Martin Hosking

former DFAT officer

Catherine Hurst

former Counsellor Australian Embassy, Port Moresby PNG

Nicki Hutley

former DFAT officer

Di Johnstone AM

former Ambassador to Nepal, former diplomat in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and Kenya

Miles Jordana

former Minister-Counsellor Washington DC; FAS Int Div PM&C; Deputy Secretary National Security Attorney-General's Dept

Sean Kelly

former Consul-General for Southern China, Guangzhou; former Consul-General for Southern India, Chennai

Philip Kentwell

former High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago; Ambassador to Caribbean states and CARICOM

Evelyn Killick

former Assist Commissioner-General Shanghai Expo; Executive Deputy Director Taipei; Second Secretary Tokyo

Dr David Lee

former DFAT officer and historian 1995-2019; now Associate Professor University of New South Wales 

Martine Letts

former Ambassador to Argentina; Deputy Head of Mission to the IAEA; currently CEO, Committee for Melbourne

Ian Lincoln

former DFAT officer and Ambassador

Jan Linehan

former Assistant Secretary, Deputy Legal Adviser DFAT

Sandi Logan

former Counsellor, Public Affairs Washington DC, Bonn and Port Moresby; former Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration

Jessica Lucas

former Deputy Consul-General Port Moresby; diplomat in Mexico City, Cape Town, Bandar Seri Begawan, Stockholm and Copenhagen

Annette Madvig

former First Secretary Dili

Richard Manning

former DG AusAID

Alan March

former Australian Humanitarian Coordinator AusAID

Alexander Marks

former Manager of the Australian-Mekong Water Resources Program; former AusAID diplomat Vientiane

Richard Mathews

former Consul-General for eastern Indonesia, Makassar; Deputy Representative Taipei; First Secretary Athens

Mary McCarter

former High Commissioner to Mauritius

Jackie McConnell

former First Secretary Australian High Commission New Zealand

Lyndall McLean AM

former Ambassador to Myanmar; Deputy High Commissioner to New Zealand

Heath McMichael

former DFAT officer, APEC and Multilateral Development Banks Branches

Beverly Mercer

former Ambassador to Croatia

Solstice Middleby

former diplomat in the Pacific

Geoffrey Miller AO

former Ambassador to Japan, the Republic of Korea and High Commissioner to New Zealand

Sharyn Minahan

former Ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland; Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay

Elizabeth Morris OAM

former diplomat posted to New Zealand and Nepal

Charles Mott

former Ambassador; former head of Environment and Antarctic Branch DFAT

Bill Nelson

former DFAT officer

Bronwyn Nicholas

former First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Jakarta

Charles O'Hanlon

former Austrade RD Europe; Minister and Senior Trade Commissioner Paris; Ambassador to Algeria and Tunisia

Susan Oliver

former First Secretary Bangkok

Janaline Oh

former Deputy Consul-General, Hong Kong

Estelle Parker

former Chargé d'affaires a.i. Mexico City; Deputy Ambassador to Mexico, Central America and Cuba

Anthony Pearce

former Consul General Stockholm and lead climate negotiator

Ruth Pearce

former High Commissioner to Solomon Islands; Ambassador to Russia; Ambassador to the Philippines; Ambassador to Poland

Anita Planchon

former Consul-General Noumea; Representative to the Pacific Community; Deputy High Commissioner Solomon Islands

Anne Plunkett

former Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See; Ambassador to Portugal; Deputy High Commissioner Fiji

Maria Poulos Conklin

former Chargé d’affaires Mauritius; former First Secretary France and Sri Lanka

Anne Quinane

former High Commissioner to Kiribati; High Commissioner to Malta and Ambassador to Tunisia

Jacqui Rabel

former diplomat posted to Palestinian Territories, Solomon Islands, Iran and Bougainville

Peter Rayner

former Ambassador to Portugal

John Richardson

former Ambassador to Argentina and Brazil

Violet Rish

former Vice Consul Makassar, Indonesia

Robin Scott-Charlton

former First Secretary and Counsellor (AusAID) Jakarta, PNG (twice), Timor Leste and Beijing

Peter Searle

former DFAT officer (Kuala Lumpur, Harare)

Alistair Sherwin

former DFAT officer and Humanitarian Coordinator, AusAID

Tom Sinkovits OAM

former High Commissioner to Nauru; Deputy Head of Mission Dublin; Chief of Mission International Organisation for Migration Trinidad and Tobago, China, Nepal

Tanya Smith

former Minister-Counsellor, Washington DC

Robin Taylor

former Counsellor, Australian Embassy Jakarta

Rachel Thompson

former DFAT officer

John Tilemann

former diplomat and international civil servant; member of the Australian delegation to the Rio Earth Summit

Stephen Waters

former High Commissioner to Vanuatu; Representative Taipei; Consul General Mumbai

Paula Watt

former Director Soft Power Strategy, DFAT

Michael Wood

former Consul-General Chicago

John Woods PSM

former Ambassador to Peru; former Ambassador to Venezuela

Gary Woodard

retired Ambassador

Lucinda Wright

former DFAT officer