Australia is being put on the spot at the Paris climate talks about its treatment of surplus credits from the Kyoto Protocol, and the fact that it will more than likely meet its short- and mid-term targets without actually reducing its industrial emissions.
Indeed, it seems that the Turnbull government – like those before it since the Kyoto Treaty was first signed in 1997 – is insisting that its focus remain on accounting and ticking boxes, rather than reducing industrial and energy emissions and preparing the country to decarbonise its economy.
That rise in industrial emissions is one reason why Australia will not be following the example of five European countries and cancelling their Kyoto surplus.
On Friday, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain announced that they will cancel 634.6 million excess Kyoto credits that they could have counted towards their Kyoto targets for 202. They decided to do this as part of a bid to remove what has been described as a giant “hot air” loophole that has favoured some countries.
“By cancelling surplus units we hope to send a strong positive signal of support for an ambitious global climate agreement here in Paris,” the European nations said in a joint statement.
But don’t expect Australia to follow suit. Australia is still intent on using its surplus of 128 million units to meet its modest 2020 targets, which it will do despite it becoming increasingly clear that its industrial emissions, and its power sector emissions in particular, will continue to rise.
That doesn’t appear to faze the Turnbull government.
When RenewEconomy asked environment minister Greg Hunt on Friday if the government was worried that its approach would not position Australia to decarbonise its economy and compete with other countries committed to doing so, Hunt simply said that the critical thing for Australia was to meet its targets.
Its Direct Action program is buying emissions abatement through its emissions reduction fund, and $2.55 billion of taxpayer money – but as quickly as it is doing this, emissions are rising in the electricity sector and elsewhere.
A new report from Pitt & Sherry says electricity emissions alone are rising 10 per cent, and estimates by Reputex put the increase in industrial emissions at 6 per cent by 2020.
2°C not enough to save the reef
It’s not the industry that becomes affected. Saturday night featured the first in a three-part series on the Great Barrier Reef by Sir David Attenborough. The key theme, scientists noted in a panel session before the screening, was that the reef would be unlikely to survive if global warming increased over pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5°C.
“We can save the Great Barrier Reef According to the best science, the upper limit for the long-term survival of coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef is about 1.5°C in the long-term. That is what the science tells us. If we don’t deal with this problem of climate change, the work on sediments won’t save the barrier reef.”
This further underlines the disconnect between what Australia says and does. It seems that Australia is not opposed to including 1.5°C in the text, but only as a “reference” – acknowledging the concerns of vulnerable nations (120 nations want this tighter target) – but not as a target in itself.
WWF Kellie Caught highlighted the apparent disconnect from the government’s support of the reef, the mention of 1.5°C, and the current policy measures.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters also focused on this point in an interview with RenewEconomy, noting that the big lesson from Paris was the need to transition to a clean energy economy.
“The world expects Australia to do better and Australians expect Australia to do better,” Waters said. “We just hope the government is not going to put its head in the sand on this matter.”
Hear the full interview with Senator Waters here:
Branson calls for a deep global carbon tax
The need for a carbon price has been a common theme at these talks. Sir Richard Branson added his voice at the film screening, saying that their “could not be a better time to have a carbon tax.”
He said 2°C was too high a target. He suggested getting rid of all subsidies, to ensure that the clean energy revolution could take place. Now is the perfect time to do it, because the price of fuel is $40/barrel, and may go down to $20/barrel.
Branson noted that airline companies like his had been dealing with oil prices of more than $120/barrel only a year or two ago, and survived. “There could not be better time to bring in a deep global carbon tax,” he said.
Climate talks are already 280 pages ahead of Copenhagen
Indeed, 1.5°C is still on the cards at the Paris climate talks. In a draft agreement released on Saturday the text included two potential long-term targets: To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5°C] [or] [well below 2°C].
The options for the text also include decarbonisation “as soon as possible” after the middle of the century. That effectively means very high penetration of renewable energy and a focus on energy efficiency.
The fact that the text has been reduced to just 20 pages – compared to 300 pages in Copenhagen – without any real drama, has boosted optimism that a deal will be struck. The question remains, what sort of deal?
A range of options still exist – from good to bad – on nearly every sticking point, including finance, loss and damage, verification, and future assessments of mitigation, a key plank in a system of five-yearly reviews to ensure that the target, be it 2°C or 1.5°C, is actually met.
This has been the focus for environmental groups. “On the ratchet mechanism, as Facebook would say, it’s complicated,” said Liz Gallagher, of E3G. “This is the least mature area of the negotiations, since we’re trying to do something fresh and new to create ambition in Paris.
“We know that the renewables revolution will proceed faster than we can imagine. We know extreme weather will become worse than we ever imagined. That’s why we need to make sure we review our pledges before 2020, and keep from locking ourselves out of ambitious action.”
This week, the task of resolving those issues will turn to ministers who will oversee the negotiations. Foreign minister Julie Bishop will take over Australia’s negotiating team from today.
The latest fossil of the day award went to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, who have been trying to remove any reference to “decarbonisation” in the text of the Paris climate agreement. Venezuela, a major oil exporter, calls it a “slogan”. Saudi Arabia and others have also been pushing to have the 2°C long-term goal removed as well, as more vulnerable countries push the target to be tighter to 1.5°C.
Giles Parkinson is in Paris for COP21 and will be filing daily. Greg Foyster’s cartoons can be found at http://gregfoyster.com/cartoons-illustrations/