[‘Abbot Point coal port, Queensland.’Photo: Tom Jefferson/Greenpeace]

In a statement made in response to the announcement of The Paris Agreement, December 2015, Brian Ricketts, the head of the European coal lobbying association ‘Euracoal’, stated his industry would ‘hated and vilified in the same way that slave-traders were once hated and vilified.’ According to a report in The Guardian, Ricketts had sent a letter to members and the press lashing out at the ‘mob rule’ of ‘a cabal of world governments and protesters at the Paris climate summit which posed a threat to democracy itself’ (cited in Nelson 2015).

Climate change is an order of planetary crisis that allows activists to occupy a morally higher ground, but also allows states to fortify their powers under emergency conditions. To raise the notion of ‘CO2lonialism,’ nations contributing the least to CO2 and Greenhouse Gas emissions often bear the brunt of its effects, such as the low-lying Pacific Island nations threatened by rising ocean levels. Climate change and border policies interact to keep populations vulnerable and render life precarious, and not just for humans.

Judith Butler argues that precariousness (as distinct from precarity) is a condition common to all life. Birth is in itself precarious and all life relies on a ‘social network of hands’ (Butler 2009, p. 18) to survive and thrive. This claim implies that all life requires care, however as Butler argues hegemonic powers ensure that not all life is greivable. That is, certain socially enforced ‘epistemological frames’ (Butler 2009, p. 9) determine which lives matter. Butler is concerned with the conditions of war, and in particular images of torture, but what if we transpose Butler’s argument across to the conditions of anthropogenic climate change, which many activists claim is effectively a ‘war against nature?’ Against the indeterminacy of things like the acidification of the oceans and the consequences of mass extinctions, borders are the epistemological and geographic means—the ‘forcible frames’ (Butler 2009, p. 185)—by which states affirm their political consistency and exercise their sovereign power over life.

Despite the commitments it made in Paris, Australia does not appear to be taking serious steps to reduce its CO2 emissions. In September 2009 the G-20 agreed that government subsidies to fossil fuel industries should be phased out given they have ‘encouraged wasteful spending and harmful emission’ (ISSD, n.d.). During COP21, New Zealand led the initiative for subsidy reforms however Australia did not participate. According to David Holmes of Monash University, this was hardly surprising. He claims:

Australian taxpayers subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of to A$182 per taxpayer every year. A gigantic sum of $9.4 billion over the next four years will be handed out to the most profitable fossil fuel companies in Australia. (Homes 2015)

In an earlier report, Holmes describes how the Abbott government directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to cancel $2.1 billion in subsidies from profitable wind farm initiatives to prop up an ailing coal industry (Holmes 2015b). Another report, quietly released soon after the Australian delegation returned from COP21, revealed that the nation’s emissions had risen over 2014–15 despite consumer demand remaining level, implicating its means of energy production (Guardian staff, 2015). Days after Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port near the Great Barrier Reef, potentially opening access to the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine. According to, if Adani were ever to utilise this coal deposit it would be certain that a 1.5–2°C global warming target would not be met (Lloyd 2015), ensuring irreversible ecological breakdown and the disappearance of several Pacific islands. As such, the discrepancy between what ministers say in high profile conventions such as COP21 and what they do as a matter of statecraft is worthy of further public scrutiny.


Butler, J. 2009. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? Verso, London and New York.

Holmes, David, 2015. ‘Two days in at COP21 – what has Australia pledged?,’ The Conversation, 2 December.

Holmes, David, 2015b. ‘Australia’s ‘Carnival of Coal’— can you feel the love?’, The Conversation, 18 July.

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), n.d. Global Subsidies Initiative.

Guardian staff, 2015. ‘Australia’s carbon emissions are increasing, government report shows,’ The Guardian, 26 December.

Lloyd, Graham, 2015. ‘Abbot point coal port expansion project has strict rules on sediment,’ The Australian, 26 December.

Nelson, Arthur, 2015. ‘Coal lobby boss says industry ‘will be hated like slave-traders’ after COP21,’ The Guardian, 15 December.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 2015. ‘Adoption of The Paris Agreement’[PDF].

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