Has Australia’s Luck Run Out?
After three decades of surfing on a wave of Chinese demand for its coal and other resources, Australia is now confronting a dual crisis that will eventually come to define the twenty-first century. One way or another, climate change and China's rise will force policymakers everywhere to reckon with trade-offs they have long chosen to ignore.
MELBOURNE – By any reasonable standard, Australia is a long way off from most other countries. Sydney is closer to the South Pole than it is to Singapore. Direct flights from Washington, DC, or Brussels to Canberra remain beyond our technical capabilities; there is always a layover somewhere.
Still, for better and worse, geography is less important than it used to be. Australia may be remote, but it is very much of this world. In fact, it is already on the frontline of two global challenges that will shape the international agenda in the decades ahead. Spend a few days in the country and you will quickly realize that its politics are all about China and climate change – and sometimes a combination of the two. Pretty soon, the same will hold true for many other countries around the world.
Among the world’s democracies, Australia is perhaps the most dependent on China economically. It is the world’s largest net coal exporter, and its biggest customer is China. It is thus also more dependent on fossil-fuel exports than many other countries; and yet it stands to lose more than others as the real-world costs of climate change come due.