Turnbull repeats incorrect global action formula, ALP needs to do more for reef Opinion Article

May 30, 2016 - 3:35pm

This article first appeared in RenewEconomy on 30 May, 2016.

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute

Last night’s leadership debate saw the term climate used almost as much as the economy (26 v. 27). It wasn’t till the very end that the two started to connect with highlights on the costs of inaction – there was very little on the opportunities for Australia in a world clearly shifting to clean energy.

(NB Our There goes the neighbourhood report out today gives more on the economic link by highlighting the threats of climate impacts to home-owners and the broader economy (e.g. 60 per cent of the big four banks’ assets are in mortgages)).

While his early comments framed the issue in terms of the environment, the Prime Minister restated his personal concern about climate change but also repeated an incorrect interpretation of how global action will proceed under the Paris agreement.

Australia and other countries agreed to a process of reviewing and ratcheting up actions every five years starting in 2018. The PM is incorrect in the implication that the global community needs to agree together before stronger action is taken.

In the debate the PM said:

“my commitment is to ensure that Australia meets the target we agreed to in Paris and when the global community agrees to higher targets, as I have no doubt it will, that we will meet them, too.”

We fact checked a similar statement by the Prime Minister earlier this month in which we said:

One of the key reasons Paris was a success is because national targets are not negotiated in the agreement. Countries are required to set them and consider the objective of limiting warming to 1.5-2°C and the goal of net zero emissions economies. Australia’s inadequate targets were established by Tony Abbott well in advance of Paris and if other countries did similar would lead to warming of 3-4°C.

Australia is locked out of any leverage with its low ambition targets and policies. This was highlighted last month when Australia wasn’t invited to a “High Ambition Coalition” meeting, which includes the US, EU and small island states. If Australia is to have any leverage it will need to lift its ambition and then engage globally, not the other way around

The Paris climate agreement requires countries to regularly revisit their targets in a “nation driven” process not a process where countries have to negotiate targets together.

As a high carbon economy and highly exposed to climate impacts Australia should be planning for and implementing policies that would see us prosper in the now inevitable shift to clean energy.  Australia did agree in Paris to a shared goal of keeping warming “well below” 2°C and to “pursue efforts” to keep it to just 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

We are already 1°C above. The Paris agreement also included the recognition that this will need net zero emissions globally. Recently petroleum giant Shell recognised that the1.5°C goal would require net zero emissions by 2050.

The race is to net zero emissions and Australia is well behind. The 2030 targets of both major parties would leave Australia towards the back of G20 countries in per capita terms, the government’s would leave us close only to Saudi Arabia as the figure below shows:

The ALP does have more credible emissions reduction targets but leaves a fair bit of detail to be sorted out after the election.  It’s targets give Australia a chance of doing our bit in avoiding 2°C warming. However that would be too hot for the reef to handle which will be significantly stressed even at 1.5°C warming.

While the ALP’s additional funding for the reef today is welcome, it too will need to lift Australia’s climate action and its targets to leverage greater action off other countries if it is to help protect the reef.

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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