Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up



US President Donald Trump during his brief attendance at the UN climate summit.
HAYOUNG JEON/EPA

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg had an angry message for world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in New York overnight.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

The summit was touted as a chance for the world to finally get its climate action on track. But by almost any standard, the event was a disappointment.




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The good, the bad and the ugly: the nations leading and failing on climate action


There was a handful of positive stories. Almost 80 countries and more than 100 cities promised to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Some (mainly developing) nations pledged an end to coal use. And a few developed nations committed more money to the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor nations deal with climate change.

But for the most part, the urgent action needed to avert a global warming catastrophe looked a long way off.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg makes an emotional plea to world leaders to act on climate change.

High hopes but low expectations for the summit

Days out from the summit, millions of protesters marched at global climate strikes to call for strong climate action.

The task was given even greater urgency by a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation, coinciding with the summit, which said emission reduction efforts must at least triple to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to take swift, dramatic climate action.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back and around the world, nature is striking back with fury,” Guterres said.




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Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Guterres convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their pledges under the Paris climate treaty. He wanted world leaders to outline plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, tackle subsidies for fossil fuels, implement taxes on carbon, and end new coal power beyond 2020.

Few predicted the summit would deliver the global change required. For the most part, world leaders lived up to these low expectations.

President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales speaks during the New York summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

The summit did not deliver

Under President Donald Trump, the United States had already pulled out of the Paris agreement – and its emissions continue to rise. China, arguably disincentivised to act without American participation, also failed to announce new targets and insisted developed nations should lead climate action efforts.

India outlined new plans for reaching emissions targets, but remains committed to coal projects well beyond 2020. And even the European Union, a traditional international leader on climate change ambition and action, did not announce a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a few bright spots, Slovakia confirmed that its subsidies to coal mines will end in 2023. Finland says it will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and Greece will reportedly close its brown coal plants by 2028.

But the disappointing showing by the world’s largest emitters means the summit was effectively a failure.

Australia: a climate summit wallflower

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the summit – despite being in the US at the time. Foreign Minister Marise Payne attended but did not speak.

Morrison’s non-attendance largely reflected the position Australia took to the summit: ever-increasing emissions, no new mitigation targets beyond those announced in Paris, and no new strategies to reach the targets.




Read more:
Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Morrison was in good company. His host, Trump, also did not attend, except for a brief entry to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak.

Australia was not alone in failing to announce new climate action. But its wallflower status at the summit cemented its global reputation as a climate action laggard. Australia was also roundly criticised by our vulnerable neighbours at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu weeks before, confirming the growing gap between Australia’s climate action and its view of itself as a responsible global citizen.

US President Donald Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the opening of Pratt Paper Plant in Ohio this week.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Andrew Highman, chief executive of global climate lobby group Mission 2020, said representatives from other countries had noticed Australia’s lack of participation.

“It is really very obvious who is absent from the room,” he reportedly said.

“Everyone is well aware that Australia has not made good on its promises in Paris to scale up its commitment to climate action.”

Where to now?

The World Meteorological Organisation said the five years to 2019 will likely be the hottest on record. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and urgent action is clearly required.

Internationally, the challenge will be to create momentum in the face of US obstructionism and Chinese ambivalence. Guterres indicated he will continue to host these summits and will expect nations to pledge more specific and ambitious targets. Global protest action and mounting scientific reports of accelerating climate change may ramp up pressure for international action.

Youth in the crowd at the global climate strike in Melbourne on September 20.
James Ross/AAP

What about implications for Australian climate politics and policy? The US’ planned withdrawal from the Paris deal may have given Australia some cover for its own lack of climate action. But criticism from other international peers, including our Pacific neighbours, suggests that substantive action may be needed to achieve our foreign policy goals and restore our international reputation.

Pressure is also likely to build on the Morrison government at home. Opinion polls since 2012 have consistently shown growing public support for climate action, in the face of reduced government ambition. In the face of this, the federal government may eventually be prodded into meaningful action. But the climate clock is ticking fast.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia to attend climate summit empty-handed despite UN pleas to ‘come with a plan’



The Port Kembla industrial area in NSW. Industry emissions can be cut by improving efficiency, shifting to electricity and closing old plants.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate action will be on the world stage again at a meeting of world leaders in New York on September 23. The United Nations has convened the event and urged countries to “come with a plan” for ambitious emissions reduction.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the meeting because he says global efforts to tackle climate change are running off-track. He wants leaders to present concrete, realistic pathways to strengthen their existing national emissions pledges and move towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Australia is not expected to propose any significant new actions or goals. Prime Minister Scott Morrison – in the US at the time to visit President Donald Trump – will not attend the summit. Foreign Minister Marise Payne will attend, and is likely to have to fend off heavy criticism over Australia’s slow progress on climate action.

Australia: procrastinator or paragon?

Australia has gained an international reputation as a climate action laggard – plagued by political acrimony over climate change, offering few policies to reduce emissions and embroiled in diplomatic rifts with our Pacific neighbours over, among other things, support for coal.

For many afar, it is difficult to understand the policy vacuum in a country so vulnerable to climate change.

In turn, the federal government points out that Australia is one of the few countries that has fully met its emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto protocol period to 2020, and says that it expects to meet the 2030 Paris emissions targets.

An island in the low-lying Pacific nation of Tuvalu, which is threatened by inundation from rising seas.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Come with a plan, and make it good

The landmark Paris agreement includes a global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Countries set so-called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) outlining an emissions reduction target and how they will get there.




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Australia set a target to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Paris treaty, the national pledges should be reviewed and strengthened every five years.

The UN convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their NDCs. The new pledges should be in line with a 45% cut to global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Australia’s emissions are rising

Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are about 12% lower than in 2005, the base year for the Paris target. But since 2013 they have steadily risen, and are continuing to rise.

In the electricity sector, recent declines in coal-fired power and increases in renewables are reducing carbon output. But those savings are being negated by rises in the gas industry and from transport.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, past and projected. Data drawn from Department of the Environment and Energy report titled ‘Australia’s emissions projections 2018’
Department of the Environment and Energy

Nevertheless, the Australian government is loudly confident of reaching the Paris target – including by using a large amount of accumulated credits from the Kyoto Protocol period. On average, Australia stayed below the Kyoto emissions budgets from 2008 to 2020, and the plan is to count this “carry-over” against an expected overshoot in the period to 2030.

This may be compatible with the Paris Agreement rule book. But it would receive scorn from countries that care about climate commitments. The Kyoto targets were not in line with the ambition now spelled out in the Paris agreement, and Australia’s Kyoto targets are seen by many countries as lax.

We could do so much better

With meaningful policy effort, Australia could meet the Paris target without resorting to Kyoto credits, and possibly meet a much more ambitious target. This would set us up better for deeper cuts down the road.

Rapid and large emissions reductions could be made in the electricity sector – especially if the investment boom in renewables of the last two years were to continue. However the latest indications are that renewables investment is tailing off.

The transition to renewables is transforming the electricity sector. Pictured: a high voltage electricity transmission tower in central Brisbane.
Darren England/AAP

Large improvements can readily be made in transport by shifting to electric vehicles and improving the rather dismal fuel efficiency of conventional cars still sold in Australia. Gas and coal use in industry can be cut by improving efficiency and shifting to electricity, and by phasing out some old energy-hungry and often uneconomic plants like aluminium smelters.

The gas industry can do better through improved management of leaks and reduced venting of methane; we can also improve agricultural practices and land management.




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The transition in the energy sector will definitely happen, based on the cost advantage of renewables, unless governments actively stand in the way. The question is how quickly and smoothly it will happen.

The advantages of the renewables transition extend beyond our shores. Solar and wind energy could be converted to carbon-free hydrogen and other zero-emissions fuels at massive scale and then exported. Electricity could also be sent through undersea cables to Asia.

This is shaping up as a real possibility, depending on technology costs and whether the world kicks the fossil fuel habit.

Outside electricity generation, policy measures are needed to achieve, or at least encourage, these changes. A price on carbon like many countries now have, would do a very good job, combined with the right regulation and public investment.

Cattle stir up dust on a property outside Condobolin in NSW’s central west. Most of the nation is currently gripped by drought.
Dean Lewins/AAP

2050: defining a strategy

Limiting the risk of catastrophic climate change demands that global emissions fall rapidly in coming decades. Keeping temperature rise to 2°C or less means reducing emissions to net-zero.

Australia will be expected to table strategies to get to net-zero by 2050 next year, at the UN’s climate COP, or “conference of the parties”. That process should be a chance for Australian governments, industry and civil society to put heads together about how this could work.




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The year 2050 is beyond the horizon of most corporate interests vested in existing assets, and it allows greater emphasis on long term opportunities than on short term adjustments. This should encourage a more open discussion than the often acrimonious debates about 2030 emissions targets and short-term policies.

Australia should show the world it can imagine a zero-emissions future, and hatch the beginnings of a plan for it. It would help position the nation’s resources industries for the future and help with our international reputation.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As they meet in Poland for the next steps, nations are struggling to agree on how the ambitions of the Paris Agreement can be realised



File 20181130 194941 n8rfom.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Spodek complex in Katowice, Poland, will host this year’s UN climate summit.
Shutterstock.com

Edward Morgan, Griffith University; Brendan Mackey, Griffith University, and Johanna Nalau, Griffith University

International leaders and policymakers gathering in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th annual round of UN climate talks know that they have plenty of work to do.

They are hoping to make progress on the Paris Agreement Work Programme, otherwise known as the Paris Rulebook – the guidelines needed to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement. That agreement was struck three years ago, but it is still not clear how the treaty’s goals to curb global warming will actually be achieved.

The Paris Agreement was a diplomatic landmark, under which nations pledged to hold global temperature rises to “well below 2℃”, and ideally to no more than 1.5℃.

This requires all countries not only to slash global greenhouse emissions, but also to help the world adapt to the impacts of climate change. The agreement requires countries to develop national climate plans, to report back on their progress, and to ramp up their efforts in the coming years.

The ‘what’ and the ‘how’

Whereas the Paris Agreement talks about what needs to be done, the Paris Rulebook to be agreed at Katowice is about how nations can set about achieving it. Unlike the previous, more prescriptive Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement allows countries to choose their own approach to climate change. But it is important that actions taken by countries are done within an agreed, transparent framework of rules.

Rules need to be agreed about nations’ emissions targets, climate finance (including climate aid for developing countries), transparency, capacity building and carbon trading. Bringing all of this together is a huge challenge for negotiators. They need to establish a common set of rules applicable to all countries, while also maintaining the crucial principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” that underpins the UN climate process.

Already lagging behind

As well as being difficult, the task is also urgent. There is already evidence that countries are struggling to live up to their Paris commitments.

Analysis of the current emissions targets (known as Nationally Determined Contributions) shows that countries need to do more to reach the 2℃ goal. Meeting the 1.5℃ goal will be harder still and will need ambitious and swift action, as recently highlighted by a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Although much of the focus has been on the challenge of bringing emissions targets into line with the Paris goals, our research suggests that climate adaptation efforts are also lagging behind.

Climate adaptation involves managing climate-related risks and deciding on how to manage and prepare for unavoidable impacts, such as increases in intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves and extreme storms, along with slow-onset impacts from sea level rise.

Many countries have developed climate adaptation policies as part of their climate change response. Our recent research analysed 54 of these national adaptation plans to understand how they match up to the intent of the Paris Agreement (as outlined in Article 7 of the Agreement).

We found that most adaptation plans only partially align with the Paris Agreement. Plans were largely focused on the social and economic aspects of adaptation, and were broadly aligned to countries’ existing policy priorities, especially around disaster management and economic development. For developing countries, there was a strong focus on linking adaptation and development.

However, countries are struggling to include environmental considerations into their planning. While the Paris Agreement clearly emphasises the important role that ecosystems play for climate adaptation, most plans are silent on this point.

What’s more, developed countries tended to take a less participatory approach to adaptation planning. Planning in developing countries was hampered by limited access to scientific knowledge but they made more use of local and traditional knowledge. The issue of resourcing and support for developing countries remains a challenge for climate change adaptation.

More work needed

Our results suggest that countries need to build on their existing adaptation plans to meet the ambitions in the Paris Agreement. There are good opportunities to better balance social and economic aspects with environmental and ecological considerations to improve planning.

Many countries, including Australia, have ratified the Paris Agreement, but few are delivering the ambitious action it requires. Besides pursuing deeper cuts to greenhouse emissions, countries need to revisit and update their adaptation strategies. Australia is well positioned to do so, given its economic wealth, its technical abilities, and the extensive climate adaptation research it has already undertaken.

Increasingly, we know what needs to be done to combat climate change. The Katowice summit will hopefully advance an agreement on how countries can do it. But actually doing it on a globally coordinated scale will be the biggest challenge, and there is some way to go to catch up.The Conversation

Edward Morgan, Research Fellow in Environmental Policy and Planning, Griffith University; Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, and Johanna Nalau, Research Fellow, Climate Adaptation, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beyond Paris: what was really achieved at the COP21 climate summit, and what next?


Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

As French foreign minister Laurent Fabius brought his gavel down on the most ambitious climate deal ever struck, at 7:27pm on Saturday December 12, 2015, applause broke out throughout the sprawling conference centre in Le Bourget.

It spread even into the cavernous media centre that played host to an estimated 3,700 journalists. It was celebration mixed with relief – a punishing two weeks of negotiations were finally over, albeit 24 hours later than planned.

The result is the first agreement requiring all nations, rich and poor, to pledge action on climate change, with the stated aim of restricting global warming to “well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels”, and to strive to limit it to 1.5℃.

Time to terminate greenhouse emissions? Hollywood star and former Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says it’s time to act.
Michael Hopkin/The Conversation, CC BY-SA

Alongside the politicians, negotiators, business leaders and celebrities at the Paris talks were dozens of The Conversation’s authors from around the world, as well as two Conversation editors. Before, during and after the conference, we have published more than 200 analysis articles, many commissioned from inside the summit.

We featured contributions from at least 140 academics at 74 universities. Those articles garnered nearly 1 million reads and were republished in media outlets worldwide, including Quartz, Newsweek, IFLScience, Scroll.in, RawStory, Mamamia, Economy Watch, SBS, The Brisbane Times, Phys.org, SciBlogs NZ and Business Spectator.

But as many of our authors have pointed out, the real test of whether Paris was a success will be seen in what happens next. So we’ve pulled together two dozen of the best articles on the big scientific, political and economic challenges beyond Paris.

As you’ll see, these highlights show the value of The Conversation’s global newsroom in bringing you insights from experts worldwide, working with all of our teams in France, the UK, US, Africa and Australia.

In case you want to catch up on your reading offline, we’ve also created a special report for you to download.

The big picture

For a fast overview, start with our infographic to see what was agreed at a glance.

A snapshot of our infographic, showing the big gap between pledged emissions cuts and achieving a 2℃ target.
CC BY

Then read why Boston University’s Henrik Selin and Adil Najam argue the agreement was good, bad and ugly.

Clive Hamilton from Charles Sturt University describes the emotional turmoil as the deal was being struck.

And Jackson Ewing from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University explains why China and the United States have finally found common purpose on climate change.

The scientific challenge ahead

Paris summit attendees in silhouette in front of a screen showing a global climate anomalies.
Reuters/Stephane Mahe

CSIRO’s Pep Canadell and Stanford University’s Rob Jackson explain why the Paris Agreement was an extraordinary achievement, but that our real work to cut emissions starts now.

That’s because, as Katja Frieler from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows, global warming is already affecting us (2015 is about to set a new global temperature record) and we’re still heading towards a 2.7℃ world.

New research from the Global Carbon Project shows where in the world emissions are rising or falling, and how much we need to do to achieve a healthy global carbon budget.

Need a quick explainer on what greenhouse gases are? Université de Lille’s Céline Toubin can help. (And if you speak French, you can also read it in French, along with the rest of The Conversation France’s summit coverage.)

But emissions cuts are no longer enough; Oxford University’s Myles Allen argues we’ll also have to find ways to put carbon back in the ground. How? One answer is lying beneath our feet: carbon stored in soil is a bigger solution than you might realise, as a team from the University of Sydney explain.

Show me the money: economic trends to watch

The most surprising revelation of the Paris climate talks was, according to Clive Hamilton, “the astonishing shift” he saw among big business and investors over the past 12 months.

The University of Adelaide’s Peter Burdon was also struck by that shift, especially the way that a growing number of business leaders are now clamouring for a global carbon tax.

Talk is cheap, especially if it’s not backed up with serious funding.
Reuters/Stephane Mahe

But our experts had different views on the best way to price carbon. Katherine Lake from the University of Melbourne argues carbon markets – that is, trading permits to pollute – could play an essential role. However, Steffen Böhm from the University of Essex disagrees, warning that carbon markets have created more problems than they’ve solved so far.

Luke Kemp from the Australian National University looks at how the Paris Agreement left a big question unanswered: what about coal? And no matter what we do now, most people agree adaptation is crucial – yet as the University of Minnesota’s Jessica Hellmann explains, we’re still too hazy on what that will cost.

What could we do if we were really serious about climate change? University College London’s Chris Grainger makes the case to invest as if we were in a global ‘space race’.

Voices of the many, not just the few

Campaigners and those representing poorer nations kept the pressure on right to the end.
Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

Speaking with Matt McDonald from the University of Queensland, Saleemul Huq – who has attended all 21 UN climate summits – reflected on the “very significant change” in negotiating blocs at Paris, which saw vulnerable countries making themselves heard more loudly than before.

Ambuj D Sagar from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi explains why developing countries need more than betting billions on clean energy breakthroughs. Maria Ivanova from the University of Massachusetts Boston highlights the work of 15 female climate champions around the world – but we still need far more.

Stellenbosch University’s Anthony Mills shows what Africa can learn from China about climate change.

COP21: one of the few places where your work is scrutinised by a giant animatronic polar bear.
Michael Hopkin/The Conversation, CC BY-SA

Many climate activists won’t be satisfied by the Paris deal, and will keep pushing for action on fossil fuel use, energy market reform and more, as the University of Sydney’s Rebecca Pearse explains.

And there’s a good reason why, according to the University of Lapland’s Ilona Mettiäinen: polar bears aren’t the only ones facing climate impacts in places like the Arctic – those impacts also affect people, locally and globally.

Thank you to all of our authors, editors and readers around the world for your interest in our Paris 2015 climate summit coverage.

As The Conversation continues to grow in 2016 and beyond, we hope to bring you even better, more comprehensive expert coverage of the biggest global issues we face – all of which will always be free to read, share and republish.

* Download your complete copy of our Beyond Paris special report.

The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Business is picking up the pace ahead of the Paris climate summit


Anna Skarbek, Monash University

Last week 12 Australian companies committed to strong measures to tackle climate change at the Australian Climate Leadership Summit in Sydney. Many of these companies are household names, including the National Australia Bank, Westpac, AGL and Origin.

The announcement followed the peak bodies’ statement in June pledging their support to the global goal of limiting climate change to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and acknowledging that this will require most countries, including Australia, eventually to reduce net emissions to zero or below.

The commitment by these companies is consistent with ClimateWorks Australia’s research with ANU and CSIRO that shows Australia can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions – to net zero by 2050 – while still growing the economy.

These announcements signal the momentum of business action on climate change is increasing in the lead-up to the Paris conference. It also sends a signal to the Australian Government that even greater emissions reductions are possible.

Businesses leading the way

In Australia and around the world, many businesses are adapting to the challenges of climate change and moving towards a low carbon economy. These businesses are making the shift from seeing climate change mitigation as a cost, to seeing it as an opportunity.

Partly this is been driven by businesses wanting to mitigate risk, rising energy costs and respond to stakeholders’ concerns about climate change. Yet, the Paris climate process has also been a catalyst for many new groups of businesses taking action.

One such action group, We Mean Business started just 14 months ago asking businesses to sign up to its seven pledges including adopting a science-based target, putting a price on carbon, and purchasing 100% of electricity from renewable sources.

To date, over 250 companies and 144 investors have signed up to more than 600 commitments to tackle climate change. These companies represent US$5.7 trillion in total revenue and US$19.5 trillion in assets under management.

About 40 Australian companies have signed on to key climate commitments, including Australia’s largest energy retailer, Origin Energy, which signed up to all seven of the commitments.

Over 20 large multinational companies including Goldman Sachs, H&M, IKEA, Nike, Mars, Nestle, Unilever and Swiss have joined the RE100 initiative and have committed to going 100% renewable.

Pledges are compiled by the United Nations’ NAZCA platform, which registers all commitments to climate action by companies, cities, subnational regions and investors to address climate change. To date, more than 900 cities, 100 regions, 1,700 companies and 400 investors around the world have pledged over 6,500 commitments to reduce emissions.

In a similar vein, a group of international business leaders, running some of the world’s largest companies, established The B Team to push for a better way of doing business that takes account of the wellbeing of people and the planet.

The organisation recently called on governments to commit to a global goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and will shortly be announcing companies pledging to be net zero companies.

Putting words into action

Progressive companies have begun setting ambitious emissions reduction targets, reporting emissions and shifting to low carbon technologies. Others are turning ideas into reality and delivering practical solutions on the ground.

For example, construction company SOM sculptured the 309-metre-tall Pearl River Tower in China so it directs wind to in-built turbines that generate energy for the building.

Car and battery company Tesla is set on developing a mass market for electric vehicles. There is already a solar plane travelling around the world.

Energy giant AGL announced it will close down its coal-fired power stations in 2050 (still too slow but a strong first step from the sector), Shell is stopping drilling for oil in the Artic, and Australia’s major banks are also making overarching commitments to limit global warming to 2℃.

Deeper cuts possible

There is no doubt the momentum is building for businesses to go “green”. So too is the ability to do it, thanks to rapid advancements in technology. Businesses are putting themselves in the spotlight and willing to be held accountable to their shareholders for their environmental management.

However, Australia cannot just rely on business action if we are to achieve the substantial emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Leading businesses are making these pledges in good faith but they are only voluntary and not yet universal.

In addition, practical measures being adopted by businesses to reduce emissions are still in the early stages and there needs to be an acceleration of actions to reach even our 2030 emissions reduction target.

To beat the ticking carbon budget clock, the pace of business progress needs a policy nudge. A suite of policy and regulation is still needed to accelerate business efforts and ensure broad coverage of emissions reductions across the entire economy.

The real contribution these pledges can make is to show the Australian government what can be achieved. The ramping up of business action on climate change should give the government confidence it can achieve more emissions reductions and set policies that aim considerably higher than the current targets.

The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will the Paris agreement be legally binding?


Katherine Lake, University of Melbourne

The inability of previous climate summits, notably Copenhagen in 2009, to deliver a legally binding agreement led some people to declare those negotiations a failure. But in practice, this should not be the central criterion for gauging success.

In Paris, the outcome should be judged on how far it goes towards supporting countries to scale up existing emissions reductions and stay within the agreed 2℃ global warming limit. It is not necessary that the agreement be legally binding, as long as the outcome establishes a process for achieving the necessary scale of action.

At the Durban meeting in 2011, negotiators agreed to create “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” by the end of the Paris summit. This wording was deliberately chosen so as not to limit the options for how much legal force the agreement should carry.

There is now a growing recognition that the outcome will be either entirely political, or a hybrid approach consisting of a legally binding agreement relating to process and conduct (such as provisions on scaling up the mitigation pledges), but in which countries’ emissions targets themselves are non-binding.

While a comprehensive treaty may seem ideal, in practice there is no necessary connection between the legally binding nature of an international agreement and its effectiveness in producing outcomes.

Legally binding treaties tend to encourage countries to make modest commitments in order to minimise their risk of non-compliance, or else to opt out entirely. The Kyoto Protocol was internationally binding but this came at a cost of reduced participation (the United States did not ratify it) and ambition (Australia’s Kyoto target, for example, actually allowed it to increase emissions, while developing nations were not given any emissions restrictions at all).

Ultimately, political will and state action are what makes an international deal effective, so the outcome in Paris should provide a basic framework that will support countries to scale up the emission reductions that they are already making, so that we can achieve the 2℃ goal as efficiently as possible.

Domestic action leads the way

Unlike the highly prescriptive Kyoto Protocol, the approach adopted in the run-up to Paris gives countries more freedom to choose their own climate targets (or in UN-speak, their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) and to outline how they plan to meet them.

While not legally binding, INDCs are publicly available, so countries are accountable not only to other states but to a wide range of domestic and international stakeholders.

This is likely to lead to a more ambitious outcome in Paris, not least because the pledges are not “locked in” as they were under the Kyoto Protocol but are intended to be reviewed at regular intervals (the United States has suggested every five years), with the aim of ratcheting them up until the 2℃ goal can be met.

For this approach to succeed, however, the INDCs need to be underpinned by a core set of rules, preferably embodied in a legally binding agreement, or at least in decisions made by consensus by the Parties. These should cover processes for scaling up pledges, as well as procedures for monitoring, reporting and verifying countries’ progress towards their targets.

At a minimum, the rules should also make it clear what industry sectors and greenhouse gases are included in a country’s climate pledge; the policies and laws it has passed (or intends to pass) to deliver it; and whether it proposes to use mechanisms such as international carbon trading.

Emissions trading

The new approach puts a much greater focus on mitigation within countries. As a result, the Paris outcome is unlikely to establish any new market mechanisms, as the Kyoto Protocol did. Yet many developing countries’ INDCs state that their emissions pledges are dependent on buyers of international offsets from projects in their country.

Carbon markets will need to play a central role in transitioning the global economy, and the expansion of these key carbon markets will increasingly be led by alliances and “clubs” of willing countries and organisations, rather than being enshrined in UN protocols. One such alliance that has already emerged is the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, which includes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and global leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel.

We are entering a new era of international climate cooperation. It may be less legally standardised than the Kyoto era, but it is also likely to be more effective.

The Conversation

Katherine Lake, Research Associate at the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘I fear we will see radicalisation’ if Paris climate talks flop, says chair of 2009 Copenhagen summit


Nick Rowley, University of Sydney

At the world’s last “blockbuster” climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, the person in the president’s chair was former EU climate commissioner and Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard. As someone who has led many important international efforts to reduce the risks of climate change but who also presided over what many felt was a frustrating result in Copenhagen, she has a unique perspective on the hype and hopes for December’s crunch climate summit in Paris.

The Sydney Democracy Network invited her to a discussion where she engaged with participants including the new chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change, Emma Herd, Clean Energy Finance Corporation chair Jillian Broadbent and Climate Council chair Tim Flannery.

The result was some key insights into what to expect when world leaders converge on Paris. You can read the full transcript of the discussion here.

A global deal is not in the bag yet

The dynamics ahead of the Paris meeting are auspicious – but nothing is certain. Bear in mind that the dynamics before Copenhagen seemed just right too: Al Gore had raised public awareness; heads of state were engaged; reducing emissions was seen as more than a purely environmental problem; and the world had witnessed the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the Australian drought and the 2003 European heatwave. Yet what emerged from Copenhagen was well short of an international treaty or an agreed set of rules committed to by all nations.

If there is one crucial positive difference this time around, it is the new assertive role of the world’s two largest economies, as Hedegaard explained:

I think that there are better chances, and there are also many lessons learned … we have China and the United States now playing ball. It means a lot … though we should not underestimate what will happen if developing countries and low-lying island states really start to question how sure they can be, for instance, that the United States under a new administration will actually deliver on its pledges.

As a veteran of these meetings, Hedegaard understands just how difficult reaching multilateral agreements can be:

… we should not underestimate that there are still many unresolved issues at the table. We saw at Copenhagen that you can have a lot of people who have an understanding among themselves, but then the summit opens and all sorts of parties suddenly have all sorts of claims. So let’s just say we aren’t home safe yet with Paris.

Rowley and Hedegaard.
Christopher Wright, Author provided

The outcome needs to be clearly communicated

Hedegaard stressed that the implications of any new climate agreement need to be rapidly and effectively communicated to the public, including details of the economic and employment benefits.

One thing that is different to the position before Copenhagen is how many people, including US President Barack Obama, are now framing the arguments for effective climate policy around the health and security benefits. Hedegaard said:

I understand in the United States, when they really started to calculate the health costs, that changed things.

There is a real challenge in calibrating public expectations. In retrospect, in 2009 they were so high and momentum apparently so strong that when the Copenhagen meeting achieved less than expected, the overwhelming sense was one of failure. Hedegaard clearly empathises with her French counterparts:

The French are absolutely fearful of having expectations set too high. The only problem is that it doesn’t work the other way round: if expectations are low then you are guaranteed limited success.

There is a danger that even if Paris achieves significant progress, a lazy media will focus solely on whether the outcome will keep global warming within the vital two-degree threshold, with the result that the summit will be reported as either outright success or unmitigated failure.

Here the lessons from 2009 are fresh in Hedegaard’s mind. Back then, when forced to respond to the “Climategate” accusations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not even employ a communications team. This time around, it should be different.

Criticism of Australia will be limited

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s public statements on coal and wind turbines, and his government’s efforts to undo policies designed to encourage low-emissions technologies, have led to predictions that Australia will be a pariah at the talks. But Hedegaard says Australia’s climate ambition is still difficult to assess.

It will be difficult for diplomats to know what to make of Australia’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, when the policies and political will to deliver these reductions look questionable. But Hedegaard thought Australia would most likely get the benefit of the doubt:

I think the French inclination would be to say ‘thank you, Australia for finally doing something’. Because they know that without all developed countries delivering at least something, then there is less a chance of developing countries coming forward with anything.

The stakes are higher than ever

There is an enormous amount at stake; another failure wouldn’t simply be a case of going back to the drawing board. If it delivers another underwhelming result, questions will be asked about whether the UN negotiating progress can continue in the same way it has for the past 21 years.

Hedegaard says Paris doesn’t have to deliver some final, ultimate treaty, but:

…it does have to deliver tangible progress. If there is not tangible progress, there will still be lots of climate summits in the future but ministers will stop coming, the top people will not attend, the air will go out of it.

If Paris flopped, then you would see a very different kind of debate globally and in Europe … The risks are real and it’s not the case that if Paris fails then things will just continue with “business as usual” – our response could go backwards.

Hedegaard warned that perceived failure could lead to climate politics becoming deeply polarised:

I think Paris will probably deliver, but if it doesn’t, I fear that we will see a radicalisation. I see some citizens, young people, are getting impatient. Unless the world community comes up in Paris with a credible narrative about how we are changing track now, also with our economy and our finances, you will see sort of the old debate from the 1970s: anti-growth, anti-capitalism.

What some of us have being trying to do is to say, no, we should work with business, we should work with our societies as they are and try to get this transition done. Because if we don’t we will have an anti-growth dichotomy and then people will stand there screaming in each of their corners and not much will happen. So there is really a lot at stake in Paris.

The Conversation

Nick Rowley, Adjunct professor, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.