Warsaw climate talks daily update

Nov 24, 2013 - 9:30am

This blog will be updated regularly with John's insights and commentary from Warsaw.
For media enquiries, please contact Communications Director Kristina Stefanova on kstefanova@climateinstitute.org.au or +61 (0) 2 8239 6299. 

To access other COP19-related materials, visit the project page here .

24 November  

After a dramatic UN climate summit in Warsaw, Australia faces key tests of its climate resolve from early 2014, which should drive a rethink of its approach to global climate engagement and action, The Climate Institute said today. 

“At the start of these negotiations, Australia put a match to brittle international climate trust and ambition.”

“The Government appeared to backtrack on 2020 emissions reduction commitments of up to 25 per cent. It made inflammatory remarks about core international climate financing principles and institutions. And it took difficult, if not obstructive, positions in the negotiations,” said John Connor, CEO, The Climate Institute, from Warsaw.

To read the full release, click here

23 November  

We are officially and predictably over time now (5pm was scheduled close) some UNFCCC folk are suggesting 3am (1pm AEST) as a potential close, but I wouldn’t count on it. Looks much more like late, or even more likely a resumption tomorrow morning.

The three key issues of the roadmap, finance and loss and damage are still under negotiation.  

As negotiations move into the traditional extra time there’s been progress with some important ornaments but the tree is still in the box.

On a matter of priority for the new Government, keys steps were made to develop a global program to ensure rain forest investments are well governed. This should please the new Government as it reinforces their preferred investment focus, hopefully it will make it bring a more sophisticated approach to this issue and the Green Climate Fund.

Negotiations are set to go into the night if not till the morning. Australia’s negotiating positions and performance have been under intense scrutiny here, their final legacy at these talks will be determined in the next few hours.
A final statement will be issued on conclusion of the talks.

Highlights so far include:

Latest negotiating text for 2015 Roadmap was released this morning. 

  • It is still   vague on details on timelines for when action pledges are due (Australia has said it will review commitments in 2015 – we have said may well be misaligned).
  • The cu rrent text calls for parties to submit “intended national commitments…well in advance of” 2015 December talks. (Bad déjà vu for me of both political parties saying election promises costings will be well in advance of election – mostly on last day.)
  • The US  just joined EU and others saying should at latest be in 1st quarter of 2015.
  • The text refers to the  UN Secretary General summit in September 2014, which many (including The Climate Institute) think is the appropriate time.
  • Experienced  observers from PwC state that pledges should be tabled in Lima at the end 2014 (see "More Homework”  below) – a position endorsed by lesser developed countries. 
  • Some have  reported Australia as saying they were happy for pledges to be after 2015. But my understanding is that as long as “major emitters, competitors and trading partners” (an oft repeated phrase) go early, they will.
  • Clar ity on timelines important if not to devolve into last minute exercise deemed by all to be unworkable.

Latest loss and damage text released

  • The current offering does not explicitly mention a separate mechanism, but does include a provision for a Steering committee, which could be seen as a first step towards a larger organisation. May be inching closer to a compromise on this important issue (see in yesterday’s note.)
  • Australia  still said to be very careful, others actively blocking, on this wanting to avoid any mention of compensation and watching its ability to become a new negotiating issue. They shouldn’t block the emerging compromise. 


  • Negotiations continue on a decision on the key issue of scaling up towards the $100 billion goal, but good vibes when:
  1. The rules o n financing the REDD+ forests scheme are signed off. Interestingly the GCF, likened to CEFC or “Bob Brown Bank” by the PM in Colombo, will play a key role, hopefully this will help Government come to understand importance of bodies such as these which are designed to clarify proper investment framework.
  2. The UN Adaptation fund refilled with more than $100 million of investments from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Australia copped some more flak

  • From Tuvalu: for climate denialism (although in formal statement cc’d yesterday Australia opened with statement accepting the science).
  • From  South Africa for weakening commitments (although as I said yesterday, technically more political than formal).
  • By clear implication from China, who could also be more constructive in final hours, see below. 

China's view

The Guardian's environment editor, John Vidal, adding to the gloomy mood, tells me that China doesn't have high hopes for Warsaw. Vidal writes: 

"Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei is not optimistic that the talks will deliver much and says he 'understands' why the NGOs walked out. At an informal 'stock-taking' plenary late last night, here's what he said, according to the Third World Network: 'I fully understand why there was a walkout. The Warsaw talks which should have been an important step forward in the implementation of the convention and the Kyoto Protocol, are now on the verge of delivering virtually nothing'.

'Even worse, the moves of many developed countries are directly undermining the UNFCCC itself; when one major developed country announced that it was backtracking on emission cut commitments previously made, and another developed country gave multiple signals that it was utterly unwilling to take the UN climate process seriously, the integrity of the talks was further jeopardised,' he reportedly said.

Referring to a ministerial dialogue on climate finance held on 20 November in Warsaw, Suwei said the ‘finance ministerial’ showed 'almost no actual finance' and the 'loss and damage talks that have stalled because developed countries refuse to engage on the substance of an international mechanism.'

He added that 'Warsaw has not seen any increase in emission reductions nor increased support for adaptation before 2020 – on these things it has actually taken the process backward.' He expressed China’s strong disappointment over the backtracking by developed countries from their commitments on mitigation ambition and finance."

The countries that Su is presumably referring to are Japan, which last week ditched its target of cutting emissions 25 per cent by 2020, and Australia, whose delegation is reported to have "worn T-shirts" during one negotiation. Australia also failed to send a minister, sending a diplomat instead.

More homework

PwC has picked up on Hedegaard and Davey's "homework" analogy. Celine Herweijer, partner at PwC, says if matters aren't clearer after next year's summit in Lima, hopes of a 2015 deal in Paris are dead: "What we do know from previous COPs, is that a lot can happen in the inevitable long final day and night. Today may provide the vital direction countries need to do their homework in the months ahead and make Lima the final hurdle for Paris, not just another staging post in negotiations."

Countries need to leave Warsaw with a clear understanding of what they need to do in the next 12 months before the COP in Lima, so they can arrive in Peru with commitments on finance and emissions reduction to put on the table. If Peru does not deliver this, it pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for a climate deal in Paris 2015. 

We're so close now to 2015, yet the nature of the beast that the climate negotiations have become, means we are crawling slowly towards what we all hope will be the finish line.

Video Blog
John speaks with Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation as remaining NGOs muster to send a message to the Plenary session as talks grind on. 


22 November  

This blog was originally published in Climate Spectator on 22 November 2013. 

Culpability or compromise: Australia's choice

A combination of political and ideological fire-breathing at home in Australia, apparent obduracy in these talks and despair at the Abbott government’s real or potential backsliding has helped put a torch to trust and ambition in the early stages of these UN climate negotiations in Warsaw.

Adding fuel to the fire have been Japan’s actions, turning a significant emissions reduction pledge into an emissions increase pledge, along with provocative and cavalier moves from host Poland.

This has counter balanced more constructive engagement by other developed countries – such as the US, UK and Europe.

Ironically, though, Australia probably hasn’t deserved all the criticism dished out to it here as it hasn’t actually moved much on formal positions regarding target range, their conditions or even on the concept of climate financing. 

But Australia has deserved criticism for comments at the Commonwealth and Canberra that have challenged core concepts, and has often been accused by other negotiators of less than helpful behaviour – not all of whom are without blame themselves.”

The most significant change is the dropping of political support for the Green Climate Fund for which Australia was a co-chair and which is an important part of the international climate architecture – there has been no repudiation of the need for climate financing. Prior to the election the Coalition did express a preference for bilateral (nation to nation) funding.

Despite these challenges the talks are going into delicate stages with three core issues dominating final discussions. These are:

  • The nature of a roadmap to the agreed 2015 deadline for a global agreement and when pledges on emissions reduction are to be put forward.
  • Commitments to climate financing; capitalisation of the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund, and; how Australia will assist achievement of a 2020 commitment for $100 billion of public and private funds to be invested in low emissions, climate resilient development in poorer developing countries.
  • M echanisms, commitments and the place in negotiations of “Loss and Damage” issues (how to address the growing realisation that some impacts are going to unmanageable and beyond reasonable adaptive capacity). The extraordinary height and strength of storm surges from Typhoon Haiyan overwhelming protective bunkers gave vivid picture to this scenario.
Discussions are fraught precisely because countries are realising that even with a 2015 final deadline, they are entering the endgame of discussions on mechanisms, timelines and responsibilities that need to be followed if they are serious about a successful global agreement. 

In coming hours Australia will either help repair or further inflame both damaged diplomatic links and brittle climate talks that it has no doubt put in danger. 

We will be looking for constructive commitments on tabling of action pledges in late 2014 as well as good faith and constructive positions on financing and Loss and Damage.

The state of play - overall 
  • Typhoon Haiyan has made an impact on countries here and Philippines negotiator has been fasting in call for action.
  • M inisters have arrived (mostly) and taken over from negotiators. 
  • This  is normally a time of chest beating but also business. Australia’s influence is undermined by not arriving with a Minister. Australian Ministers have often been delegated roles to lead or co-lead negotiations on various aspects. Exactly how the absence is impacting our voice being heard in the rooms I haven’t heard but we are not as involved in shaping outcomes. 
  • Things  are fraught but there is debate in the corridors whether they are more fraught than normal.  On one level the tensions nations reflect a realisation that the 2015 agreement endgame has begun (see Roadmap below) impacting domestic actions, preparations and politics right now. 
  • There is  no question that the actions of Australia, Japan and Poland have had an impact on fragile assets of trust and ambition in climate diplomacy. They have ensured Australia’s every move is viewed with distrust and cynicism by many inside and outside the negotiating rooms. 

  • Genuine befuddlement as to why we would be first country to dismantle a carbon market, but dismay and shock at some of the comments about climate financing and the Green Climate Fund. 
  • Some  confusion thinking Australia has reduced its target range of 5 to 25 per cent to just 5 per cent. It hasn't, at least yet, removed the range from its “pledge” in the formal UN documents. Australia has also not formally walked away from conditions used by the Climate Change Authority and that have been shared in work programs clarifying pledges with other nations in the UNFCCC. 
  • W idespread anger at comments describing climate finance potentially as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”. This attacks a core principle of developed countries having an interest in assisting developing countries both clean up their development but also prepare for climate impacts. To be fair the government, it talked about a preference for aid framed as an investment requiring mutual responsibility. This actually isn’t contested here, the framing was completely unnecessary and inflammatory. 
  • Some  confusion that the government has given up on climate financing altogether – it hasn’t. Australia’s attitude to financing in negotiations are contested here at best they are being misunderstood but have as a fact on occasion used some inflammatory language, which led some delegates and many observers to believe they had attacked a core principle. 
  • There is a clear  mandate to “make no further financing commitments at this stage” – negotiators have been told, emphatically it would seem, not to offer money here. They say the review of slashes to AusAid funding and the folding of its administration back into DFAT – prevent any spending commitments here.  Assessments of extent and scale of future commitments will depend on the budget process so technically Australia will be ready by May next year at the latest – if a priority earlier. 
  •  real change has occurred in actively stating that Australia won’t be investing in the Green Climate Fund. The previous government was involved in the establishment of this body and was a co-chair of its establishment Board.  There have been issues about trusting another body with taxpayer dollars from a number of potential donor countries but these have been largely overcome and some pledges are coming in and there is a goal of broader capitalisation in June next year. This body was established so it could strategically invest in both mitigation and adaptation at scale, a scale necessitated by  disparate and variable funding – a fact highlighted by the major reduction in Australia’s aid budget.
  • Tony  Abbott’s comments in Colombo, repeating disinterest in welfare financing and likening the Green Climate Fund to the “Bob Brown Bank” (Clean Energy Finance Corporation) was both wrong and inflammatory here.
  • A ustralia has copped a lot of flak here, much of which is deserved but much of which may not be. The real shocks came from fire breathing in Canberra and Colombo.
  • Last in the week, Japan worsened the early blows of Australia by reducing its formal emissions reduction target from up to 25 per cent below 1990 to a target that would equal 3 per cent above that number. Japan blames this on the shutdown of the nuclear industry – disputed by other experts – but has left open revisiting this, particularly if nukes come on line. 
  • Japan  tried to soften this with an announcement of $16 billion in climate finance.

  • Almost comical in begrudging support for this conference and process: hosted a coal conference nearby which has tried to influence final decision; had fossil fuel industries as major sponsors; and to cap it off, the Environment Minister and formal convenor were sacked mid-conference and replaced with a new Minister explicitly to “radically” speed up fracking of shale gas. 
Not all grim, convergence

As US lead negotiator Todd Stern noted today, there has been convergence in four main areas:
  • That all parties need to be participating.
  • Mitigation  (emissions reduction) targets nationally determined. 
  • Need  for transparency in all actions. 
  • Domestic processes now need to be ready to submit the reduction targets and other actions, e.g climate finance early to enable others to fully understand them, comment and “expose fully to sunlight”.

The key areas of difference are mostly to be found in key issues below but in addition:

  • Whether  the interpretation of developed and developing countries remain according to an Annex (1) of developed countries in the original 1992 Convention – this matters as developed countries have leadership expectations on reductions and finance (and some expectations are very high).  The developed list doesn’t have many Asian countries like South Korea, Singapore, China and India etc which grates with many.
  • Discussion for the 2015 agreement are split in two work streams – 1) is for post 2020 actions and 2) is pre 2020 actions, both of which are supposed to be targeted towards the objective of avoiding two degree warming.  Divisions are where the greatest focus should be, generally speaking, developing countries much keener for pre 2020 action – finance and targets, developed the other way around   
Key issues
a.      2015 Roadmap
  • One of the main tasks of this meeting was to establish a roadmap to the agreed deadline of a 2015 agreement  - most importantly when emissions reduction pledges are going to be put forward, with how much detail and with how much time to scrutinise them.
  • Australia famously held its cards close to itself to the very end in 1997 Kyoto negotiations, exacting an “Australia” clause on land clearing and one of the few to have a target of increased pollution under the Kyoto protocol, others played hard but it is a situation many are keen to avoid and to the surprise of many the US and EU have been strong voices for this to “expose to sunlight” (Todd Stern) the pledges, some like Brazil have taken a different tack saying 2015 should clarify the rules and the pledges follow, momentum is towards late 2014/early 2015.
  • Australia has been evasive on exactly what time they support draft pledges coming forward sticking merely to a public position of a national review of ambition in 2015 – this could mean a process that means we arrive with pledges or an early year one, which would be more respectable – a late 2014 even better. 
  • In terms of unavoidable timelines:
  1.  Australia will be required under its participation in the Kyoto Protocol to register by end of April its intentions to increase ambition of its second commitment (QELRO – currently based on 5 per cent).
  2. KP Ministers to gather in June in Bonn to discuss increasing ambition.
  3. UN Sec-General has extended an invitation to all world leaders to a special climate ambition summit the the day before the annual September gather – all leaders have been invited to attend
  4. Early December 2014, next COP, Lima, Peru. 

b.      Finance

  • Concept covered above, questions about how developed countries will be scaling up climate financing pre-2020 and achieve goal of $100 billion in public and private money to poor and vulnerable developing countries (China and India have ruled out accessing).
  • Australia committed to “fast start” 2010 -13 investments but unclear now.  While a few countries have been making announcements here, still short of meaningful contributions many are seeking.
  • Australia has not repudiated the $100 billion goal but has reportedly said the lions share of their support would be from private sector-  easy to say but virtually no private sector money expected to flow to adaptation (preparing for impacts) rather may go to new energy systems etc which can have a cash flow.

c.      Loss and Damage

•        Over the last few years this issue has grown in importance mechanism for discussing these things in the future.
•        Need to minimise Loss and Damage it is inversely related to mitigation and adaptation efforts.
•        A very good discussion of this (10 min) here.

21 November  

John discusses progress and roadblocks as Ministers arrive in Warsaw for the final days of negotiation.


20 November  

This blog was originally published in Climate Spectator on 20 November 2013. 

In the annual climate negotiations since, Copenhagen in 2009, painstaking progress has been made towards a new deadline of 2015 for a framework agreement that concentrates on bundling up national interests, trust and action rather than a 'top-down' formal treaty.

This new agreement won’t be born perfect but must be able to ratchet up collective action with accountability towards the shared goal of avoiding a 2 degree rise in average global warming, as well as a fair approach to addressing both unavoidable, but also unmanageable, climate risks.

To compatriots at the Institute for Public Affairs and Bjorn “what’s a few bushfires between friends” Lomborg, current national interests mean progress across these issues are unlikely to succeed and are, indeed, mostly unnecessary…yet.

Since 2009, however, there’s been a growing recognition that climate and pollution impacts are costing national, economic and human interests now. Typhoon Haiyan has punched home those costs as did a World Bank report with a main message that building climate resilience is essential to the global goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

There’s also been growing action with national legislation or strategies covering round 75 per cent of the global population, up from only a third pre-Copenhagen. Environment Minister Greg Hunt, to his credit, has acknowledged significant action in and between the US and China. 

This is not to pretend all is sweetness and light but countries are mostly emerging from trusted bunkers, exploring new partnerships and approaches. Some do so tentatively with occasional retreats and some retreat spectacularly such as Japan with its conversion last week of an emissions reduction pledge to one of emissions increase.

Australia’s simultaneous dismantling of what is recognised as a broadly credible carbon market provided another shock which pushed many back towards their bunkers. It ensured Australia’s every action is viewed with suspicion and distrust. This has been compounded by what appear to be restrictive, half-formed and ideologically tinged mandates for negotiators. 

These might be understandable for a new government but the domestic political 'carbon tax repeal' hothouse may be driving some negotiators to over-reach or be misunderstood in the negotiations. Inabilities to commit to further 'financing' commitments at this stage, because of budget reviews due to looming massive cuts to overseas aid, were interpreted as enduring attacks on core principles.

"Financing" is understood at the UN as being rich nation investment in low emissions, climate resilient projects in poorer developing countries. In addition to a sensible investment in building regional stability and prosperity, it is seen as an important trust building measure.

Concerns that those comments were at least a staging post to such an enduring position were reinforced by extraordinary actions and statements by Australia at the CHOGM talks. There, the very concept of developed countries funding emissions reductions in developing countries was questioned. An, at best, ill-informed comparison was made between the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and a UN financing institution called the Green Climate Fund.

The latter’s name may be a red rag to conservative politicians but there is as little basis to the comparison as there is to the statement that what we do at home we have to do abroad. If the reverse applies the equivocal approach to torture displayed in Colombo bodes ill.

These Warsaw negotiations were never to result in glamorous reduction goals but, rather, designed to provide a roadmap towards 2015; progress in financing, and; the more recent question of “Loss and Damage” – how to deal with unmanageable, not just unavoidable, climate impacts. There’s been reasonable progress across a host of other framework issues like the monitoring, reporting and verification of national actions but those three are the biggies here still to be resolved this week.

Last night saw ministers begin to arrive and the irony of an Australian minister’s absence from the first formal meeting focusing on effective market mechanisms was not lost on many.

In a parallel universe an Australian minister may have proudly shared how our carbon market supported other policies in reducing emissions from covered sectors and boosted renewable energy. He or she would highlight that inflation impacts were as predicted, and that household support measures funded by carbon price revenue meant most households were better off. And, finally, that business decisions incorporated the reality of firmly entrenched carbon prices and limits.

19 November  

The climate talks made reasonable progress today. Many of the loose ends left over from last week’s work in what are called the subsidiary bodies were wrapped up and others pushed off for either the Ministerial dialogues to convene from Wednesday or until further talks next year. Delegates negotiated through Saturday night till around 8am on Sunday morning before resuming this morning. Progress was made on key mechanisms such as MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification). This is a vital area of governance central to achieving a rules based framework for a global agreement. These concluded midday on a busy day so I’ll provide a summary tomorrow.
This week’s business got going around midday with what is called a draft text on the desired roadmap that we hope to get from these talks to give a timeline and structure for the steps ahead. The first draft is large and inclusive of a range of fronts many of which will get hacked about and some strengthened in the days ahead. It covers a range of activities which need to build together to grow trust, ambition and real action on emissions reduction.  
There will need to be progress on when emissions reduction pledges are to be tabled, and what are the rules and criteria to review those pledges for fairness and adequacy towards the common goal of avoiding two degrees warming of average global temperatures.  
There will need to be clarification on how low emissions and climate resilience investments in vulnerable developing countries are to scale up and how these will be appropriately and transparently governed. There’s a big push to ensure that at these talks financing investment in the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund (I’ll come back to that) is replenished or gets up to basic scale.
There’ll also need to be greater clarity on whether there is a spectrum of adaptation efforts that stretches to dealing with unmanageable consequences such as complete loss of water and resource systems in low lying states or whether separate institutions and processes are necessary. These are some of the focal points for the next few days.
Two external events burst through the eternal fog here in Warsaw.  
The first was waking to the news that in the Sri Lanka CHOGM Communique, Australia had joined Canada in sidelining some paragraphs dealing with the “climate finance” investments and the support of a Green Climate Fund. There was nothing exceptional in the language, it referred to existing processes and the Green Climate Fund has already been established. While there has been some remarkable talk of “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”, the Green Climate Fund and other financing activities either already adopt or are adopting the mutual investment framing preferred by the Coalition. 

Further clarity on this was received on reading Australia’s morning papers with the long bow drawn between the Fund and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the domestic politics of its repeal. In many ways the Green Climate Fund couldn’t be more different.  
The Government should carefully consider its approach here to a body whose purpose is not only to invest in low emissions technologies but also to lead investments in helping prepare our more vulnerable developing neighbours from climate impacts. 

With neighbouring archipelago’s and low lying estuarine cities dotted around the Asia-Pacific it would be highly unusual for a Government which maintains it accepts the  science of climate change isn’t particularly attuned to its highly certain forecasts of unsettling storms, surges and winds of disruption. Many of our neighbouring countries are depending on programs and institutions such as this, particularly as a force of harnessing disparate and threatened overseas aid budget into a scale that can deliver   
Projecting domestic politics onto the international stage is often a risky business – particularly in the opening days of a new Government. A senior diplomat recounted to me tales of new governments gone awry and the collateral damage wrought as over-exuberance in pursuing an agenda led to diplomatic stoushes and payback in other potentially unrelated areas.  
Finally, the other noteworthy event was the appearance of the head of the UNFCCC Chistiana Figueres at the International Coal and Climate Summit so usefully hosted adjacent to this Conference by the Polish Government hosting the climate talks. 

Ms Figueres gave a resolute speech that  drew on the increasingly mainstream concept that there is a limited budget of heat trapping carbon pollution budget that can be put into the atmosphere and that has real consequences for the coal industry. She outlined the social and investor movements focusing on these consequences and suggested some basics of a needed transition:
· Close all existing subcritical plants;
· Implement safe carbon capture utilisation and storage on all new plants, even the most efficient; and
· Leave most existing reserves in the ground.
We’ll await their response.

18 November 

This blog was originally published in Climate Spectator on 18 November 2013.

A bruising first half in Warsaw

After the first week its halftime at the Polish national football stadium hosting this year’s climate talks and all are feeling battered and bruised. Australia, along with Japan and Canada, has been singled out for rough conduct and some dangerous backsliding. A number of disputes have seen a reversion to old world groupings threatening progress towards everyone’s stated objective of a global agreement in 2015.

There’s a mood of gritty resilience, however. And if one of these meetings was able to survive such body blows, it is this one which was never intended to be marked for major emission reduction outcomes, more its progress in clarifying a roadmap to 2015 among other issues.

Australia’s performance here and back home has been a major feature at the talks.

People were shocked by the simultaneous introduction of legislation to make Australia the first country in the world to dismantle not only mechanisms to price and limit carbon pollution, but key independent agencies and clean energy funding as well.

This was inflamed by the Prime Minister’s apparent breaking of a pre-election promise that there was bipartisan support for an emission reduction range of up to 25 per cent below 2000 by 2020 and the conditions of relative international action that would guide them. Taken literally, his comments would smash the chances of Australia moving beyond its minimum 5 per cent reduction commitment and represent a major retreat.

The Environment Minister subsequently said the target range was still on the table. However, there remains deep uncertainty and suspicion in Warsaw about whether the rules have been changed and whether this also endangers the Coalition’s pledged support for a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol.

Our negotiators have used a formulation that remains ambiguous and Australia probably wasn’t helped by the Canadian government’s cheering of the repeal legislation. Their similar policy approach will, on their own projections, see them fail to achieve their own emission reduction target.

Australia has been accused of playing foul on at least two other grounds.

The first is on whether they have, in reality, or by the conditions they are proposing, walked away from a crucial commitment made to be part of a collective 2020 goal that would see $100 billion in what is called climate financing. This is intended to establish a fund to assist the poorest developing countries clean up their development and prepare for climate impacts through “adaptation”.

The government has used extreme and needlessly inflammatory language about this potentially representing “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” and a mere wealth transfer from rich countries to poor. There is little to argue with their preferred framing of this as investment that requires proper governance, but Australia’s language and blunt statements that it can make no financial commitments at this meeting hasn’t helped, particularly as there are some crucial pre-2020 shortfalls in the jointly administered Adaptation Fund.

Further grievance was caused with reported comments that Australia said obligations for new, predictable and reliable finance from developed countries was “not realistic” and “not acceptable”. This earnt Australia a 'Fossil Award', awarded by non-government organisations, daily, to the country behaving the worst, for representing an attack on an important cornerstone without which “the entire international climate architecture falls apart".

Australia is in fact already festooned with 'Fossils'. It has been awarded four in the first five days, closing in on an all-time record.

One of these was for setting out pre-emptive and restrictive conditions in measures to address what is called 'loss and damage'. This is an area of growing importance in the negotiations and the devastation in the Philippines rocketed it towards the top of priorities in these talks. Loss and damage relates to how the most vulnerable developing countries, who have contributed little of the carbon pollution driving climate change, will be assisted for actual climate impacts. This terrifies richer developed countries as they see potentially endless compensation claims.

Australia’s contribution, made just after expressing solidarity with the Philippines, listed no-go areas for discussion on this issue and a suggestion for shutting down the UN’s relevant work program. This was not well received and a key negotiating bloc, including China, has listed progress in this area as a red line issue for the talks.

Australia’s efforts were massively compounded by Japan’s revision of its 2020 emissions reduction target. Using the post-Tsunami shutdown of its nuclear industry as an excuse, Japan turned a commitment to a 25 per cent reduction into a 3 per cent increase. This bought considerable criticism from China and developing countries as well as European nations.

Tensions and positioning are not unusual at this stage of the talks but there has been an unusual degree of biffo. Perhaps unfortunately, you can’t red card one of the national players because if one goes then all go, but Australia and Japan are clearly on report.

The danger for both is that they risk being marginalised from those seriously working on the agreement to avoidan extra two degrees warming in average global temperatures. Others are seriously working towards that goal and a 2015 global agreement that continues to ratchet trust, ambition and action towards it.

Australia needs to lift its performance in the second half of these talks and needs to clean up its intentions as well as its performance. Australia should clarify its position on targets, finance and loss and damage.



15 November 

John Connor speaks with ?RTCC in Warsaw on Australia's actions, their impact on ?the climate talks and Australian public attitudes on climate change.



13 November

Australia’s rollercoaster of carbon politics is set to go through some turbo-charged twists and turns before the year’s end. The spin will be fast and furious and will loop between Warsaw and Canberra and, despite the wishes of some, the ride is unlikely to end any time soon.

I’m about to strap myself into a seatbelt for the long plane ride to Poland, where nations gather in Warsaw for the international climate talks.

Yesterday our Prime Minister’s appeared to break a long standing promise to the Australian public and to the international community by smashing a bipartisan consensus on conditions for moving towards credible carbon pollution reduction targets.

Since 2009, the Coalition has maintained it shares the same conditions for moving 2020 targets from 5 per cent reductions below our 2000 levels to 25 per cent below, a commitment we have detailed in a useful reference media brief. Just a fortnight ago, the independent Climate Change Authority said the 5 per cent was inadequate and the conditions for moving to stronger targets had been met.

We called on Parliament today to make sure the Government comes clean on its commitments before it considers any changes to the current laws, even as the aftershocks of the Prime Minister’s statements will keep coming from overseas for some time. (From US partners overnight we heard that “the news trickles out that Australia is no longer supporting its 5-25 per cent target is a mixture of shock and dismay” as well as comments such as “it is quite surprising that as the rest of the world – for example China and the USA – take further action to address climate change, Australia is stepping back.”)

I’ll be providing updates, tweets, blogs and videos from the talks in Poland, all of which will be documented on this web page.  If you’re starting with today’s entry, make you sure you’ve read our pre-COP19 policy brief outlining what we think can be expected from the talks. 


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.

Email   Print   Subscribe
Contact us. For further information. Follow us. Join the conversation.

Level 15, 179 Elizabeth St.
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel   +61 2 8239 6299
Fax   +61 2 9283 8154
Site Map