With Trump in the White House, Australia must lead on climate Opinion article

Nov 11, 2016 - 2:22pm

This article was originally published in Crikey on Friday 11 November 2016.

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute
   

It’s morning here in Marrakech and people are working through the implications of the election of President Donald Trump. It will take some time.

Regardless, it remains in Australia’s national interest to build on climate and clean energy action and push forward with the Paris agreement. The climate risks and clean technology opportunities for Australia have been noted by the bipartisan parliamentary treaties committee. Nothing has changed to affect ministers Julie Bishop and Josh Frydenberg’s statement that the Paris agreement is in our national interest.

The current forces that are driving transformation in the electricity sector remain unchanged. If anything, the risks have just become greater as the politics become more volatile. Australia and other countries must continue to implement the commitments they made in Paris. This is the only way to protect Australia’s long-term interests.

The extent of impact on global climate action of a Trump presidency will depend on a number of factors, including the resolve of other countries, investors and the state governments within the USA.

This does not mean the Paris climate agreement falls.

The agreement came into force last Friday and, even if the US could withdraw, there would still be enough countries with enough of a proportion of global emissions for it to continue. Article 28 of the agreement stipulates, after coming into force, no country can withdraw for three years and then must give 12 months’ notice. It appears Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress could forge a workaround by withdrawing from the agreement’s governing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But this is no small step; it is a convention ratified by former Republican president, George Bush Sr.

The essential drivers that led to the Paris agreement remain in place. The agreement is the result of the robust international co-operation to address the climate threat that has changed the global economy in the past decade. Renewables have overtaken coal in global electricity capacity. Electric vehicles are the growth segment of the auto industry. Jobs are being created in clean sectors faster than any other. This is the case in the US and every other major economy. Additionally, the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on November 4 underscored the scale of that commitment and the ongoing momentum in the process.

[Even rain can’t stop the parade on day one of Morocco climate conference]

At home, Trump has pledged to dismantle and defund clean energy programs and massively curtail, if not abolish, the Environment Protection Authority. The extent to which he follows through is uncertain. But it is important to recognise that, for some time, significant leadership has been exercised by states like California, and this will continue. Even in conservative strongholds, such as Texas and North Carolina, Republicans are embracing clean energy industries that promise major new investment and job creation. In 2015, the clean energy industry brought $6.96 billion to North Carolina, boasting more than 26,000 full time jobs, 3150 of which were created in 2015 alone. In Texas, the heartland of oil and gas, more than 100,000 people are now working in the renewables sector.

It is also important to recognise that investors have now become significantly more sophisticated in their approach to the climate challenge’s physical and policy risks. Few would invest in high-emissions. long-lived infrastructure, which would typically have 40-year lifespans.

There is no question a Trump presidency could wreak significant damage on domestic and global climate efforts, but that need not be fatal. Much will depend on the extent to which other countries strengthen their resolve and carry on. Much will depend on the way other countries engage with a Trump administration, who will need to recognise that climate diplomacy is now integrated into economic and security international relations.

Australia has a particular responsibility here. The US-Australian partnership was one of the few, if not the only, partnerships to be unscathed by Trump during the campaign. Australia should engage and counsel against drastic moves.

Australia should signal its seriousness by pressing on with the ratification of the Paris agreement and its 2017 review of climate policies and consideration of post-2030 targets. Bishop and Frydenberg have stated that the agreement is in Australia’s national interest, and the bipartisan Joint Standing Committee on Treaties recommended ratification just last Monday.

In this time of massive uncertainty, and with its enduring partnership, Australia needs to step forward in its engagement with a Trump administration on climate and clean energy. But, just as importantly, Australia needs to send clearer signals that the only way to deliver on the commitments made in Paris is to push on with the modernisation and decarbonisation of our energy system and economy.

*John Connor is CEO of The Climate Institute, an independent research organisation, which last week released its guide to the Marrakech Talks COP22: Getting down to getting to zero.
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