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A path to meaningful action on climate change could open up at the 2015 UNFCC, writes Sherryn Groch, here’s hoping Australia chooses to take it.
It is a deal 20 years in the making. Since the 1990s, the world has been sitting down together to hammer out a meaningful agreement on climate change and, since the 90s, the world has been walking away unsuccessful.
In December, six years after the disappointment of Copenhagen, 196 countries will meet in Paris to decide if this decade will be any different at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (2015 UNFCC).
The UN now has a fierce advocate in its Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. In September of last year, he called together an emergency meeting of the UN on climate change. It saw the largest turn out of world leaders on the issue to date, coming in at a respectable 120 delegates.
Out on the streets of New York, the numbers were even larger as 400,000 people welcomed them with the biggest climate rally in history. At the same time, tens of thousands more marched in solidarity across capital cities all around the world. Ban Ki-moon himself joined Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall and the falling leaves at the New York march. I was among the 30,000 who gathered together outside the State Library in Melbourne.
Before the summit, Ban Ki-moon had issued each developed nation with a UN report detailing how they could end their reliance on fossil fuels – and quickly. He gave them figures, dates and targets. Australia was sent a particularly compelling report explaining how it could maintain annual growth in GDP under a renewables sector and still end up with an economy 150% larger by 2050.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, our Prime Minister Tony Abbott never made it to the summit. That would have risked all kinds of awkward questions, like why in July last year we made history by repealing our price on carbon.
Fortunately, for most countries in attendance, Ban Ki-moon’s September summit became the moment to make strong public commitments on climate action – some for the very first time. France pledged $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) on the spot, kicking off the fund designed to assist poorer nations in reducing their emissions and coping with the effects of climate change. Germany followed with $1 billion of its own and the US and Japan each pledged a respective $3 billion and $1.5 billion at the G20 summit in Brisbane a month later. Australia, again to no one’s real surprise, pledged nothing.
Then came the 20th Conference of the Parties last November in Lima, Peru. Initially billed as a hashing out of smaller matters rather than a serious grappling with the big stuff, the COP 20 still extended a full 31 hours over schedule before an agreement could be reached. Exhausted delegates eventually committed to a global call for action in the early hours of Sunday morning, albeit a lukewarm version of what had been hoped.
Though Lima was not a shining success, it did expose several glaring roadblocks still at large in international climate negotiation. For one, it revealed continued concern from developing nations that the developed nations aren’t pulling their weight. Many developing countries initially rejected the draft agreement due to the absence of the phrase “common yet differentiated responsibilities.” For another, COP 20 exposed an old unwillingness to sign the Paris climate deal into actual binding law, even from climate leaders such as the US.
Lima was not only about laying down the bones of the COP 21 Paris deal. It was also an exercise in testing its strength, finding its weak spots. In that at least, I think it succeeded.
One such weak spot, namely our Australian government, may soon be forced to aim a little higher as pressure mounts back here at home. Recently, Queensland’s former Premier Campbell Newman lost what was widely dubbed an “unlosable election” – and he lost it on key environmental policies such as the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef for coal shipping. With the CSIRO releasing a report just last month predicting Australia to become the world’s worst affected country by climate change, our Prime Minister could face a similar fate – perhaps even sooner than he thinks – unless we put in place a serious climate policy.
The US, European Union and China will each unveil their post 2020 emission reduction targets as early as March. Australia will follow in July. The public’s response to that target could have huge implications on Australia’s stance at the COP 21 summit.
Now, on the road to 2015 UNFCC in Paris, Ban Ki-Moon is gearing up for the diplomatic challenge of his career. Already, his leadership within the UN has sparked dramatic results.
In the few months following his September summit, we have seen an historic deal finally brokered between China and the US, with targets for peak emissions set and reduction strategies in place and have seen another, though admittedly more tentative discussion between the US and India to the same end. We have seen climate change forcibly squeezed onto the G20 agenda against our government’s wishes and the funding of a Green Climate Fund to help alleviate the concerns of the developing world.
We have seen hundreds of thousands of people come together from hundreds of nations to raise their voices for climate action.
And, we have seen at last a path forward open up.
If only, this time, at 2015 UNFCC we would choose to take it.