Australia may take an increasingly isolationist stance at international climate change talks in Madrid next month, as the Morrison Colaition government seeks to avoid other countries shutting down its plans to rely on surplus Kyoto units to meet its modest Paris targets.
Australia will go into the Madrid talks with the primary aim of securing, by whatever means, the ability to carry over credits from its 2020 Kyoto target and using the surplus to meet Australia’s 2030 target.
Based on the most recent projections released from the Department of Environment and Energy, Australia will need to find 695 to 762 million tonnes of CO2-e of emissions reductions by 2030 to meet its 26 per cent and 28 per cent targets, respectively.
The Morrison government is counting on a surplus of 367 million tonnes from the 2020 Kyoto target to provide around half of these reductions.
But Pacific leaders see this approach as not being within spirit of the Paris Agreement and is largely an attempt to further water down Australia’s commitments on climate change.
Faced with the prospect that it will be shouted down that the COP25 talks in Madrid, the Australian delegation may seek to avoid any concrete determination on the issue of Kyoto, as part of the ‘Article Six’ negotiation that deals with emissions accounting and international carbon trading under the Paris Agreement.
“It’s going to come up in a number of different ways under ‘Article Six’. I’m not sure it’s going to be explicitly discussed. Australia may be seeking to not have it discussed or not out in the open in order for them to be able to default to trying to use it,” CEO of Climate Analytics Bill Hare told a pre-COP25 media briefing.
Australia would effectively be taking the approach that ‘it is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission’, over the creative accounting of surplus Kyoto units.
While there is no indication that Australia will follow the route of the United States and withdraw from the Paris Agreement altogether, the Morrison government appears to the preparing to further isolate Australia from the rest of the global community seeking to establish meaningful mechanisms to reduce global emissions and tackle climate change.
The approach appears to place the Morrison government at odds with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), which has detailed in a new climate change strategy how it sees action on climate change as potentially complementary to development efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ahead of the talks in Madrid, the DFAT quietly released its climate change action strategy, and as noted by the Canberra Times, acknowledges that climate change poses an existential risk to many nations within the Asia Pacific region, and that Australia has a key role to play as a regional power to support the Pacific region to develop and adapt to climate change.
“While significant international effort is focused on the risks of climate change, climate action also presents opportunities through lower emissions, more climate-resilient economic growth, jobs and new technologies,” DFAT’s climate strategy says
“Longer-term outcomes can encompass inclusive economic growth and better governance, as well as increased energy access, cleaner, more resilient cities, and health, gender equality and education benefits.”
The new DFAT climate strategy highlights the opportunities that exist to align development assistance with assisting regional neighbours to develop their economies, and prepare for the impacts of climate change while also without increasing their contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Climate change is already a key consideration for Australia’s development assistance in the Pacific. We have forged strong and enduring partnerships with Pacific island countries and regional organisations. We are supporting responses to climate change for sustainable development,” the strategy says.
This point was reinforced by Dr Simon Bradshaw, the climate change advocacy coordinator for Oxfam Australia, during the pre-COP25 media briefing organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“Whether we’re talking about local renewable energy or supporting sustainable small scale agriculture, whatever it is, typically these are also precisely the sorts of things we need to be doing to reduce inequality to eliminate poverty and hunger to provide local prosperity,” Bradshaw said.
“When we look at, for example, India where we see progressively higher targets and investments in renewable energy. In part that is to meet their national obligations under the Paris Agreement and to deal with the challenges of climate change. But it’s driven just as much by the fact that this is increasingly the quickest, cheapest, most secure way to bring energy to a large number of people that still live without it,” Bradshaw added.
However, rather than being a strong leader within the Pacific region, Australia has faced strong criticism from Pacific Island nations for seeking to employ creative accounting tricks to mask the weakness Australia’s climate change policies and for being disingenuous about the development support Australia is providing.
This was clearest at the Pacific Islands Forum held earlier this year, where Australia worked to water down language around climate change in a joint statement issued by the forum. While Australia made a $500 million commitment to invest in climate change measures throughout the Pacific, these founds had been redirected from the existing foreign aid budget.
Pacific island leaders had sought to use the forum to endorse calls for countries to begin phasing out the use of fossil fuels, and to eliminate effective subsidies provided to fossil fuels, but prime minister Scott Morrison leveraged Australia’s position as the regions largest economy to block the inclusion of those calls in the joint statement from leaders.
The COP25 talks will commence in Madrid in a little over two weeks, no announcement has been made regarding whether which federal ministers will be attending the talks, if any.