Post-2020 emission target a test for Australia Opinion Article

Apr 02, 2015 - 4:21pm

This article was first published in the  Lowy Interpreter   on 2 April 2015. 

Erwin Jackson    
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

Failure to pay proper, high-level attention to negotiations under the UN's climate convention (UNFCCC) seriously endangers Australia's national interest in areas beyond climate change. This is the important headline conclusion from a timely Lowy Institute paper by Howard Bamsey and Kath Rowley .

The paper is timely because this is the year countries will likely agree on the shape of the post-2020 climate framework in Paris in December. As part of this process the Government needs to soon to decide what initial emissions reduction target Australia will put forward and how to approach possible Paris outcomes.

I would quibble with some parts of the paper. For example, we should acknowledge scientists' legitimate concerns about the treatment of land sector emission sources and sinks in the global framework. In the halls of the UN you often hear an Australian accent saying that a tonne of carbon in trees is the same as a tonne of carbon in the ground. This is not precisely true: tree carbon is more vulnerable to fire and release back into the atmosphere, for example.

However, on the paper's more important argument that building up Australia's diplomatic effort is necessary to promote its national interests, the reader is left with the question: what, precisely, are those national interests, and which is most important?

Bamsey and Rowley refer briefly and somewhat obliquely to several: minimising climate change (given Australia's particular vulnerability to climate impacts), and maximising flexibility of responses (given Australia's particularly emission-intensive economy and the higher costs of fragmented action). They argue that 'quick, decisive, and coordinated global action, should be a high-priority economic task for the Australian Government'.

Absolutely. But decisive action in service of what ultimate goal?

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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