Paris climate agreement: Now it’s time for Australia’s real work to start Media Release

Dec 13, 2015 - 12:40am

The Climate Institute said today that the historic Paris climate agreement had left Australia in a conflicted position.

While today’s historic international climate agreement will boost existing investment trends and herald a move to a zero carbon global economy, Climate Institute CEO, John Connor, said it also highlighted the glaring inadequacies of Australia’s commitments and policies when compared with the necessary action to be taken and that of other countries.

“This Paris agreement, forged by 196 countries, signals to communities, investors and companies around the world that the shift to clean energy is now unstoppable,” said Climate Institute CEO, John Connor.

“The process was always going to be ugly and the agreement is not perfect. But this agreement, and its process of continually ratcheting up action, makes the objective unmistakably clear. Nations are heading, within a handful of decades, to net zero emissions – an end to adding heat-trapping carbon pollution to our atmosphere.”

The government had played a mostly constructive role in Paris, John Connor said. In order to maintain any credibility, it now needs to urgently lift its game on pollution targets, financial support for the world’s most vulnerable countries, Kyoto commitments and, perhaps most importantly, its domestic policies.

He said the agreement that has come out of the 21st UN Conference of Parties in Paris was historic, not only because all countries had agreed to limit emissions, but also because they had agreed to continually review and strengthen actions every five years, beginning in 2018. He said these aspects of the agreement were extremely significant because, up until now, countries had set targets only for single periods of time. (See attached initial assessment of the Paris outcome.)

“In Paris, Australia’s negotiating team - led by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Environment Minister - supported the need for net zero emissions and joined the ‘high ambition coalition of nations’ which seeks to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, just half a degree from current warming,” Connor said.

“However, Australia’s domestic actions now need to match these fine outcomes and aspirations in Paris. Without stronger action, for example, 2030 country commitments will leave Australia as the highest per capita polluter in the G20 alongside just Saudi Arabia, one of the most obstructive forces in the Paris negotiations.

“The international politics of climate change are catching up with the real-world, where global investments in clean power already outstrip investments in traditional fossil fuels,” he said. “The agreement will further galvanise investors and industry around the growing opportunities of a clean economy, and pile risks on those who cling to old and polluting technologies.”

He said there were four immediate steps the Australian government should take, now that the Paris conference was over: 

  1. Improve our initial post 2020 pollution reduction targets, which are more aligned to 3 to 4°C warming, and would leave us in 2030 with the most pollution intensive economy and the highest per capita pollution in the developed world. If we are serious about helping avoid 1.5°C warming, this should include a commitment to net zero emissions before 2050;

  2. Expand domestic policies and, in particular, have a plan to phase out existing coal fired power plants which will block modernisation and innovation of our electricity system for decades. Our current initiatives do not put us on a path to meet our current inadequate 2030 pollution reduction target, let alone help meet ever strengthening future targets;

  3. Increase “climate finance” investment promises to assist vulnerable countries: our current “at least” $1billion to 2020 commitment is well short of our share or those of comparable economies, like Canada, which committed $2.5 billion;

  4. As an act of goodwill, join other developed countries, like the UK and Germany, in cancelling our “Kyoto carry over” of surplus carbon credits, achieved by bettering 2012 targets, rather than counting it towards 2020 targets.

“The Paris agreement marks a critical point for the Australian government's climate policy,” Connor said. “We have agreed to scale up action towards net zero emissions and our major partners are already accelerating down this path. The time for piecemeal, unstable and short-term policy is over. The real work for Australia starts now.”

Initial assessment of the Paris Climate Summit
The graphic below maps progress in political and real economy actions in Paris, and maps elements of the Paris agreement against the scenarios for the Paris climate summit that The Climate Institute has outlined in our pre-Paris Policy Brief (Click image to enlarge).

  • Catalyst : The agreement sets the scene for countries, business and investors to accelerate actions to end emissions through time.

  • Momentum : The process to step up action is less defined, but the 2°C goal is kept in sight. Domestic actions develop over time and new targets are set.

  • Patchwork : Lack of clarity on key issues, but investment in clean energy and climate solutions continues within those countries and industries, seeing action as part of their own long term prosperity.

For more information
Brinsley Marlay | Media Manager | bmarlay@climateinstitute.org.au | 0422 140 555

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