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Is Australia a suitable host for the 2026 UN Climate Change Conference?

Published 24 Sep 2023

On 19 September our current interns debated the proposition “that Australia is a suitable host for COP 31”, the 2026 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The affirmative case was put by Matthew Vasic, a student of international relations and law at Western Sydney University, and Imogen Biggins, a recent graduate in international and global studies from the University of Sydney. The negative case was put by Dominik Hruby, a student of international and global studies and marketing at the University of Sydney, and Daniel Yang, a student at the University of New South Wales studying politics and international relations.

Matthew and Imogen argued that Australia’s standing as a country of great potential for climate change solutions, including our extensive land areas for developing alternative energy (solar, hydro) and our mineral resources such as lithium, gave us outstanding credentials as host for COP 31. Australia had shown the world how to meet the challenge of climate change – domestically, in developing alternative sources of energy for households and industry, and internationally, in participating actively in climate change negotiations from Kyoto onwards. Our record might not be perfect, but that should not preclude a hosting role. Holding this major UN conference in Australia would enhance our international standing and stimulate domestic awareness of our responsibilities for dealing effectively with climate change, including our important role with our Pacific neighbours (with whom we would be co-hosting COP 31).

Dominik and Daniel argued that a country’s suitability for hosting a UN climate change conference should not be based merely on its potential, but on its established record for climate change action. Many countries have established far better claims than Australia: our record was one of political polarisation in which positive measures, such as those adopted by the Gillard Government, had been reversed by their political opponents. We had persisted for too long with the disreputable practice in international reporting on climate change measures of carrying over climate change credits. We were a massive exporter of environmentally-damaging materials including coal and gas. Our internal climate change wars were getting worse, with powerful fossil lobbies dominating the debate. Australia’s climate change credentials were little more than green-washing. As host of COP 31, we would diminish the case for effective international action.

The adjudication was given by Dr Robert Howard, senior University of Sydney analyst of international relations, including security issues in the post cold war era and the role of the United Nations, and a long-standing member of the AIIA NSW council. He complimented both teams on the content and presentation of their cases, including some original points from the affirmative team on Australia’s outstanding potential as a regional climate change policy leader and the hard-hitting arguments from the negative side on Australia’s patchy record in climate change policy and action. On balance, he awarded victory, by a narrow margin, to the affirmative team.

From left to right:  Robert Howard, Imogen Biggins, Dominik Hruby, Matthew Vasic and Daniel Yang