Paris update: Anticipation and hyperbole Opinion Article

Nov 30, 2015 - 4:33pm

This article first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter on 30 November, 2015.

Erwin Jackson               
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

The delegates have arrived and the behind the scenes discussions in Paris are well underway. Negotiators are meeting to discuss strategy and informally coordinate positions. The aim is to ensure formal negotiations proceed smoothly after the fanfare of the leaders' statements tomorrow.

Canada and Japan's multi-billion dollar commitments to support the world's poorest nations participation in climate change solutions are a welcome boost heading into the week. See below for the chronology of climate finance commitments:

From an Australian perceptive, we head into the Paris meeting with an unprecedented commitment from both major political parties that we must achieve net zero emissions. On Friday, as I was getting on the plane to Paris. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, outlined the ALP's commitmentto Australia achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the Lowy Institute (more on this below). From the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta, the Prime Minister stated, 'It [Paris] is a step along the way to achieving a net zero emission world'.

Long-term emission goals such as this will be on the agenda in Paris. But, more importantly, these statements offer a rare opportunity to reset some of the hyperbole in recent domestic policy discussions. How a party plans to achieve net zero emissions over coming decades is now a key test of its policy to clean up and modernise our economy.

However, the unusual convergence on what our ultimate objective is has been marred by some of the domestic debate around the ALP's emissions goals. Businesses have largely been constructive in their responses and focused on the need, regardless of the targets set, to have scalable, durable and domestic climate policy they can invest in(see, for example, media statements from the Business Council of Australia and AiGroup). However, a number of Government statements in response to the ALP's commitment require scrutiny:

ALP target would be a massive hit on the economy

This is not supported by evidence. All independent economic modelling in Australia has shown that cleaning up our economy would see economic growth continue strongly. Putting aside the fact this modelling explicitly ignores the economic impacts of climate change itself, any cost to businesses and the economy is largely determined by the policy to achieve the target, not that target itself. For example, the modelling commissioned by the Government shows that the overall economic cost of achieving a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 through domestic and international action is the same as achieving a 26% reduction through domestic action alone.

The ALP's target is stronger than other countries

This is incorrect. The average emission reduction target of other developed countries, on 2005 levels, is around -35% by 2030. This is less than the ALP's target but more than the Government's. However, a number of countries including Germany (-45%), Norway (-44%), Switzerland (-51%) and the UK (-49%) have comparable or stronger targets than the ALP's proposal.

A straight comparison against a 2005 base year also misses a critical point.

Over the last two decades Australia has done much less than many other nations to limit emissions. As a result we still have the highest emissions per person and the most pollution intensive economy of any developed nation. By not bringing per person emissions and emissions intensity down to levels comparable to others, we are asking other nations to continue subsidising our lack of action.

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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