The legacy of Tony Abbott – and his aggressive stance against climate change initiatives – lives on at these climate talks.
Australia has found itself marginalised by the emergence of a new coalition – called the Coalition for High Ambition – that numbers around 100 countries, includes the US, as well as European, African and Pacific nations. But not Australia.
The coalition – regarded by many as one of the most significant alliances to emerge in 21 years of talks – has been in the making for more than six months.
It broke cover in these talks on Monday – after a ministerial meeting on Sunday night – to try to negate the combined influence of China, India, and the OPEC countries; the so-called Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC)
The remarkable thing is that Australia claims it didn’t even know about it. But the fact that it is not a member is a legacy of Abbott-era domestic policies, which the Malcolm Turnbull-led Coalition, while seeking to play a constructive role at these talks, remains attached to, even continuing to talk up the role of fossil fuels.
Indeed, while Australian negotiators are saying on the public record that the country wants an ambitious agreement, its ministers in Paris – from Turnbull down through Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt – have sent opposite signals, refusing to sign a deal to dump fossil fuel subsidies, not following a European lead to remove an overhang of surplus credits (it wants to use them to meet its 2020 targets), and talking up coal as a solution to poverty and hunger.
To further highlight Australia’s marginalisation, Canada – which has announced it will support the call to limit warming to 1.5°C (as opposed to the “reference” favoured by Australia) – said on Thursday that it would sign up to the Coalition for High Ambition.
It is yet further evidence of the differences between two leaders – Malcolm Turnbull and Justine Trudeau – who usurped the positions of hard right, climate sceptics, but have delivered two very different outcomes since then. (See our story, Malcolm Turnbull proves he is no Justin Trudeau).
Australia once played a leading role in the group of “progressive nations” – helping form a loose grouping of such countries known as the Cartagena Dialogue, some six years ago. But its role in the grouping became untenable after the election of Tony Abbott, with his determination to can the carbon price, stop renewable energy deployment, and sabotage Australia’s negotiating position at the Warsaw talks.
As RenewEconomy reported from Lima last year, the Marshall Islands held a meeting in the Pacific nation early in 2014 that sought to “shift gears,” and “raise the political tempo” in time to seal an ambitious new agreement in Paris. Australia sought to attend that meeting, but only in an “observer status” – instead of sending a minister or even an official delegate, they sent a junior official to the discussions.
Update: On Friday, in France, Bishop’s office told AAP that it had been invited to join the Coalition for High Ambition and had accepted. This, though, was news to the Marshall Islands, the group organiser, who announced with great fanfare that Brazil had joined. A spokesman for the Marshall Islands later said: “We are delighted to learn of Australia’s interest and look forward to hearing what more they may be able to do to join our Coalition of High Ambition here in Paris.”
Australia risks marginalisation on coal too
Of course, it is not just the political arena where Australia risks marginalisation under current policy settings, it is the economy too. While Turnbull and Bishop have been talking up the benefits of coal, it seems that not many people are listening, with coal imports plunging and the price of oil slumping below $US40/barrel, at which point few new deposits are worth developing.
India’s coal secretary this week said that thermal coal imports have fallen 49 per cent, year-on-year, in the month of November. This follows a 30 per cent decline in China coal imports so far during 2015.
On top of this, new analysis by Wood Mackenzie reveals that two-thirds of world coal production is operating at a loss, and Anglo American says it will write off $US3.7 – $US4.7 billion, much of it from its coal division. It plans to cut 85,000 jobs and sell many of its coal assets, including in Australia.
“The global coal industry is in dire straits,” said Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at IEEFA. “With Rio Tinto, Vale, Peabody, Glencore, Whitehaven and most other coal companies globally trying to find equity investors to buy some coal bargains, the list of sellers of coal assets is an increasingly crowded space. Banks are now left holding around US$45 billion of debt associated with US coal companies alone.
France proposes an “Indaba Solution” as talks near their climax
Meanwhile, France has proposed what it calls an “Indaba Solution” – seeking to unlock differences over the three remaining big issues through a Zulu-style meeting format adopted at the Durban talks. On Wednesday night, two such sessions were held, with one lasting until 5am and another until 8am.
Suggesting another long night, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius hinted that the meetings – due to start around midnight – would not end until a compromise was found on the key issues of ambition, finance (who pays) and differentiation (who does what). In effect, he was telling delegates that they would stay in those rooms until agreement is reached.
The new text released shortly after his comments revealed few brackets; down to around 50 from more than 300, and just 13 options. Importantly, the text retains a strong reference to 1.5°C, with no bracket. It pledges to:
- hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change;
Other notable inclusions include an unbracketed reference to $100 billion a year in climate finance as a “floor”. There is no reference to decarbonisation, instead it talks of “reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century.”
Critically there is a mechanism for a review before 2020, a critical component for many countries. Analysts suggested this combination “could lead to the necessary phase-out of fossil fuel emissions by 2050.”
Thomas Spencer, the Director of the Climate Program at Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, said this would “sow seeds of doubt in someone who wants to invest in fossil fuels”, and bring confidence to those who want to invest in renewables.
Fabius said he wanted to propose a final text on Friday afternoon to the 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties. “We must do this and we can do this. I think we will make it,” he said, to much applause.
Love song dedications, do we really need this?
After nearly two weeks of talks, cynicism reigns supreme. There has been considerable speculation about what might cause a walk out by delegations at the Paris talks, and the answer may be at hand – a “Love Song to the Earth” – written and performed by a variety of artists including Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Fergie and Colbie Caillat.
Academy Award winner Sean Paul even appeared at a press conference in Paris with UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to deliver an impromptu performance. It followed a more worthy presentation of awards to 16 local community clean energy and climate initiatives under the UN Momentum for Change program. No Australian winners though.
Australia gets another fossil of the day award
To underline some of the negotiating intrigue that occurs at these talks, the Umbrella Group, which includes non-EU countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Norway, Russia, Ukraine and the US, won the fossil of the day award for ….. standing in the way of increasing ambition before 2020.
Green activists criticised the grouping for their “obstructive” negotiating tactics. “If they shifted to a less obstructive position the LMDCs (like-minded developing countries such as China, India and OPEC nations) would have to deliver on their promise to discuss scaling up post-2020 ambition,” the activists said. “Together these actions could help get us on track to keep warming below 2°C degrees, and ideally 1.5°C.”