Both parties in carbon hot seat Opinion Article

Dec 11, 2012 - 9:00am

This article first appeared in The Australian on 11 December 2012.

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By Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute 

The Doha climate summit concluded with an agreement to streamline negotiations towards a new legally binding agreement by 2015. Many of the specific elements of the agreement are modest but an increasing level of scrutiny will be on Australia's contribution to resolving climate change across the next two years.

Before Doha, the Climate Institute suggested three possible scenarios for the meeting: focus, business as usual and collapse. The outcomes allow a clear focus on the new 2015 binding agreement; however, to a great extent it has been business as usual for global climate politics.

It is clear that, for an ambitious outcome in 2015 to be delivered, the ambition and spirit of cooperation that countries bring to these meetings needs a reset.

This is not a reflection on the cliched commentary about climate talks being a fight between the developed and the developing world. These two blocks do line up against each other on occasion, but Doha continued the trend started in Copenhagen towards developing nations advocating positions separate from the greater G77+China bloc.

Doha, for example, saw the emergence of the Alianza Independiente de Latinoamerica y el Caribe group. This informal group of progressive Latin American countries, which includes Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru and Guatemala, was formed around the view that countries need to act according to their capabilities and stop looking to others to act first. At the other end of the scale you have the Like Minded Group, which takes the old hardline G77+China position.

The success of the Durban outcome last year was facilitated by the progressive countries of the EU working with the world's vulnerable small island developing states to pressure large emerging economies to support the agreement. The inability of such an alliance to form in Doha is one of the reasons the meeting was so difficult. In part this is because developed nations have not been delivering ambitious emission reductions and financing commitments. On the other side, some of the more vulnerable nations slipped back into uncompromising positions that gave the EU little room to move.

Fundamentally, underpinning the politics of the climate summit is the decision that governments make in national capitals, not in the halls of the UN.

The world is moving to drive clean energy and low pollution investment to meet the targets they have set, deliver energy security and build new clean industries. For example, China has implemented a range of policies on clean energy and energy efficiency and is in the process of developing a national carbon price. Recent analysis suggests China's action since 2005 will amount to the world's largest policy-driven emission reduction in history.

Despite the policies in all major economies, collective action has not reached levels that address the gap between the action being taken and what is needed to limit climate change to safer levels.

As we head towards 2015 greater signs of action will be needed to build co-operation and allow progressive groups of countries across the developed and developing world to build ambition into the process.

The years 2013-14 will be critical to this. Under the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Climate Convention several processes were agreed in Doha to strengthen emission reductions.

Australia has included its full bipartisan-supported target range of 5 per cent to 15 per cent reductions on 2000 levels by 2020 into the Kyoto Protocol. This locks both main parties into their promises of up to 25 per cent emission reductions and in 2013-14 this will be a key test of both parties' policy readiness to achieve stronger targets.

As international scrutiny of our commitments increases, the next two years will test the credibility of both main parties' emission commitments and their readiness to achieve more than the minimum 5 per cent 2020 target. Scrutiny will also focus on how Australia will provide the public and private financing needed to build resilience to growing climate impacts and help the world's poorest nations reduce industrial and deforestation emissions.

Analysis of current international action by Ross Garnaut, the Australian National University and the Climate Institute indicates that a 10-15 per cent reduction is the nation's fair commitment based on pledges from other major emitters. Australia's fair share in a world limiting climate change to safer levels is a 25 per cent reduction by 2020.

The next two years will define the contours of the new legal agreement in 2015. Increased ambition is the key to unlocking a successful outcome at this time. This will test policy readiness and political willingness to drive stronger emission reductions. It will test the commitment of both main political leaders to help deliver a global agreement that can avoid dangerous climate change.

Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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