Angus Taylor may be relieved to leave behind a tumultuous last parliamentary sitting of the year in Canberra, but the federal minister for energy and emissions reduction will encounter even more scrutiny, and fact-checking, as he travels to Madrid to join the second week of international climate talks.
Taylor’s performance has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, as have his statements to parliament – both in relation to claims against the City of Sydney’s travel budget which are now the subject of police investigations – and in relation to writer Naomi Wolf.
Taylor’s main beef against the City of Sydney was its call to reach zero emissions. Yet that is exactly where most of the world wants to head, and in Madrid, Australia’s lacklustre climate targets and policies will face criticism, and Taylor will face demands for Australia to do more. Yet Taylor is certain to arrive empty handed.
Much of the focus of the early talks has centred on pressuring countries to increase their respective climate change targets, known as “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs), as the Paris Agreement prepares to come into force from next year.
Taylor will take the government’s 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 to the climate talks, a target that as been widely panned as being insufficient and inconsistent with the level of action needed under the Paris Agreement.
Despite this, the Morrison government has made no indication that it will consider making any changes to its 2030 targets. Taylor will have an opportunity to directly address the talks during a ‘high level’ segment to be held next week, a session dedicated to speeches for ministers and heads of state, but there are no expectations that Taylor will announce any additional climate policies.
The environmental integrity of Australia’s target has also been undermined by the Coalition government’s reliance on carry-over surplus Kyoto-era permits to meet the 2030 target, with other countries, including the European Union bloc and Pacific island nations, labelling the move as inconsistent with the ‘spirit’ of the Paris Agreement.
Australia has already faced intense scrutiny from other countries at a round of ‘intersessional’ talks held in June over the same issues.
If countries move to block Australia from using these surplus Kyoto units, the Morrison government will have to deal with a major hole in their plans to achieve its 2030 target.
The Australia Institute has estimated that this ‘hole’ could cost the Government up to $18 billion by 2030.
Officials from the soon to be abolished Department of the Environment and Energy also admitted earlier in the year that Taylor’s plan to achieve the target remains questionable.
So while the Morrison government has rather tenuous plans for meeting its existing targets, there is an expectation on countries that they will update and increase their targets at the next round of talks, and the Chilean chair of the climate talks will pressure ministers and heads of state to commit to increasing their ambition early.
According to a tracker maintained by the World Resources Institute, prior to the start of the Madrid talks a total 68 nations have made commitments to increase the level of their climate ambition by 2020.
Chile, who holds the ‘presidency’ of COP25 as the original hosts before it was relocated to Spain, will host a Climate Ambition Alliance event during the second week of the talks to create an opportunity for city governments, businesses and other non-governmental organisation to commit to the Paris Agreement goals.
“I hope to help mobilize the climate action of all interested entities – cities, companies, investors and civil society – to facilitate the approach of these parties to the agenda and sense of urgency that governments, scientists and non-state organizations bring to the COP25,” Chile’s High-Level Climate Action Champion and businessman Gonzalo Muñoz said.
The call for countries to increase their ambition has been echoed by United Nations leaders, who likewise want to see countries, like Australia, lift their emissions reductions targets to ensure they are consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to as little as 1.5 degrees.
“Current NDCs remain inadequate,” said UNFCCC executive secretary Patricia Espinosa.
“If we stay on our current trajectory, it’s estimated that global temperatures could more than double by the end of this century. This will have enormous negative consequences for humanity and threaten our existence on this planet. We need an immediate and urgent change in trajectory.”
Espinosa pointed to the success of previous events that sought to ramp up the commitments from countries to reduce emissions, including the climate leaders summit held in New York earlier in the year. Australia was amongst a group of countries that were effectively excluded from that summit, for their refusal to engage and consider increasing their targets.
“At these key events, we saw an enormous groundswell of action, with many contributions from governments and non-Party stakeholders, including regions, cities, businesses and investors. Their contributions are crucial to drive the transformation we need,” Espinosa said.
Ahead of the Madrid talks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an end to what he described as a “war on nature”.
“Our war against nature must stop. And we know that that is possible,” Guterres said.
“The scientific community has provided us with the roadmap to achieve this. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030.”
“But let’s be clear. Until now, our efforts to reach these targets have been utterly inadequate.”