Australia is refusing to confirm its intentions for the upcoming international climate talks, with questions being raised over the Government’s climate policies and who represent it in Spain, just as the US confirms its exit from the treaty and as more than 11,000 scientists warn of a climate emergency
The next round of the UN climate talks – known as COP25 – will be held in Madrid after Chile had to abandon its planned hosting due to riots and demonstrations.
There is much at stake for Australia at these talks, with the conference set to be the first step for countries to ramp up the strength of their emissions reduction targets, and could also decide the fate of “surplus credits” from the Kyoto protocol, a much criticised accounting trick that that the Morrison government wants to use to deliver its modest 2030 Paris target.
Despite this, and with little more than three weeks before the talks, the office of the minister for energy and emissions reductions, Angus Taylor, could not confirm whether Taylor would be attending the conference, instead referring to a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs, saying that an announcement about ministerial representation at the climate talks “will be made in due course”.
At last year’s climate negotiations in Poland, Australia was represented by former environment minister Melissa Price, who used the climate conference to spruik Australia’s gas exports.
The office of the current environment minister, Sussan Ley, confirmed that Ley would not be attending the climate talks, noting that the environment portfolio no longer includes responsibility for ’emissions reduction’.
There is a possibility that Australia will instead be represented by foreign minister Marise Payne, but the Department of Foreign Affairs would not confirm whether Payne will attend.
Adding to the uncertainty over Australia’s representation at the talks, the position of Australia’s Ambassador for the Environment, the diplomatic position assigned to Australia’s chief climate change negotiator, is currently vacant.
RenewEconomy understands that the next Ambassador for the Environment could be Jamie Isbister, a diplomat with DFAT who has specialised in humanitarian and aid work, having served as the Australian Government’s Humanitarian Coordinator, a position that Isbister recently stepped down from.
Isbister comes with a history of international policy and development positions with non-government organisations, and worked for AusAID, before the foreign aid agency was subsumed into DFAT.
This position was formerly filled by Patrick Suckling, who had served as Australia’s head climate negotiator since being appointed in 2014. Suckling has recently stepped down from the position, making his position known in a piece published by the Guardian, where Suckling stressed the need for political leadership on climate change.
The role is currently being filled by the acting ambassador, Julia Feeney, a career diplomat and the former ambassador to Serbia.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has not confirmed whether Feeney will represent Australia at COP25 in Spain, or whether Ibister’s appointment will be made before the talks.
Australia is likely to be represented by one of its smallest negotiating teams ever, given that government expenditure on diplomatic work is already at an all-time low, and the added costs due to shifting the COP25 host from Chile to Spain will put further pressure on that diminished Australian budget.
The COP25 talks are set to deal with the outstanding “rules” for the Paris Agreement, including the issue of the carryover of surplus units from the Kyoto protocol, and is expected to be used as a platform to begin pressuring governments to ramp-up their ambition on climate change.
“The COP has moved locations but kept the same agenda, which focuses on the missing chapter to the Paris Rulebook on carbon markets,” the Australia Institute’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian told RenewEconomy.
“COP25 must agree on rules for markets (Article 6), to ensure it supports the integrity of the Paris Agreement and avoids carryover of dodgy carbon credits from the Kyoto Protocol – including from Australia.”
The Australian government goes into the talks having faced ongoing scrutiny over its plans to achieve its 2030 Paris Agreement target and growing evidence that its policies are insufficient to achieve the necessary cuts to emissions.
COP25 will also have a strong focus on national emissions reduction ambition and will serve as the first step towards countries ramping up their emissions reduction pledges ahead of a more substantial review at the 2020 conference that will be held in Glasgow.
Earlier in the year, UN secretary-general António Guterres convened a special climate leadership summit in New York, where Australia was refused an opportunity to address the climate leadership summit, due to the ongoing failure of the Australian government to put in place meaning climate policies.
Many countries committed to more ambitious pledges at the summit, but Australia joined several industrialised nations in refusing to commit to deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
“Based on current national climate targets, the world is not on track to limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees and the Madrid COP is the last major climate negotiation before parties update their national targets (known as National Determined Contributions) in November 2020,” Merzian added.
Australia will take its 26 to 28 per cent reduction target to the conference, along with a lacklustre suite of policies that federal minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Talyor has claimed is part of a plan, “down to the last tonne”, to achieve this target.
However, the Environment department hasn’t been as steadfast in that claim.
As Environment department officials were forced to concede during recent Senate Estimates hearings, Australia is the only country seeking to carryover surplus Kyoto credits from its 2020 target, to meet is 2030 target under the Paris Agreement, a move that has been criticised as an effective act of creative accounting.
But a carryover arrangement is yet to be written into the ‘rules’ for emissions accounting under the Paris Agreement, and the Morrison Government faces the tough task of winning consensus approval from all other countries to allow the carryover.
If Australia is denied the ability to carry over its Kyoto surplus, the Morrison government will face a 367 million tonne hole being blown in its already lacklustre plan to reach Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target.