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Saturday, February 27, 2016

After the Paris Climate Talks: Which way forward for the climate movement? - John Englart

I was on a panel for a discussion organised by Greenleft Weekly on 17 February 2016, titled After Paris Climate Talks: Which way forward for the climate movement? Other panelists included climate author David Spratt who runs the ClimateCodeRed blog, and Socialist Alliance activist Andrea Bunting. All three of us are members of Climate Action Moreland. These are my speaking notes for my contribution. Andrea Bunting has written an article at Green Left Weekly embracing the talks of all three panelists and the discussion that ensued.

The Paris Agreement was an historic event. 195 nations agreed on basic goals of what must be done. It was, in it's goals, far more ambituous than most people were hoping or expecting.

The diplomats, ministers and leaders are well aware of the problem. The UNFCCC Conference of the Parties have been discussing it for 21 years.

But there is a vast gap between the goals agreed to and the voluntary commitments made.

This is the emissions gap and it would have us on a planet at least 2.7C to 3.5C degrees warmer this century, with a very good possibility that climate feedback mechanisms may kick in around or above 2C degrees of warming to boost this even higher (and perhaps even sooner). (See Paris emissions gap)

So what did the Paris Agreement give us?

  • A temperature target of "well below 2 degrees and pursue efforts of limiting warming to 1.5C" (Article 2)
  • Global peaking of emissions as soon as possible, then rapid reductions with best available science, “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”(Article 4)
  • provides an overarching international framework for transparency, mitigation, adaptation, finance, loss and damage, global stoctake and 5 year reviews to increase national action.
  • Starts a process of long term emission reduction planning by inviting countries to submit by 2020 their "mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies in accordance with Article 4" (COP21 Decision 36)

Although certain dates are hardcoded into the agreement, it comes into force when at least 55 countries with 55% of the total global GHG emissions formally ratify it. (Article 21) The possibility of early adoption, as early as the end of 2016, was also more than expected.

But, in my view the developed nations got most of what they wanted from this agreement. No large-scale change in Finance commitments, compensation and liability explicitly ruled out under Loss and Damage, voluntary national commitments.

The Agreement also includes provision for carbon credit trading, described as "use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes to achieve nationally determined contributions." (Article 6)

Agreement negatives

  • A framework that starts in 2020 with a first review in 2025. INDCs not going to be reviewed until 2020. That is 200 GTCo2 extra emissions.
  • In Loss and damage the COP decision Para 52 says "the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation."
  • An agreement about reducing fossil fuel emissions, does not mention Fossil fuels even once. Neither is decarbonisation mentioned. In 32 page of COP decision and the agreements.
  • Aviation and shipping emissions, currently 5% of global emissions and a fast growing sector, were excluded from the final agreement. Increasing aviation emissions might blow achieving the 2 degree C target.


Finance for developing countries was set at $100bn per year. It sounds a lot, but in the scheme of things it is a trivial amount for supporting the transition of developing nations to mitigate their emissions and also adapt to the climate impacts that are ocurring.

In 2025 this will be reassessed with $100bn a floor.

By comparison, the IMF in a July 2015 report outlined that direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels amount to US$5.3 trillion, 53 times more than the commitment to developing countries in the Paris Agreement.

Australian fossil fuel direct taxable subsidies by the Federal Government are about $12 billion per year (Market Forces). This is in addition to state governments in Australia spending $17.6 billion supporting the mineral and fossil fuel industries over a recent 6 year period. (TAI: Mining the Age of Entitlement)

Just to illustrate the influence of fossil fuels on the political process, the latest news from today is that political parties have received some $3.7 million in donations from fossil-fuel companies since the last election in 2013. This amounts to over $2,000 in subsidies to the industry for every dollar donated. This was revealed by a polluted money report (PDF) and a new campaign at focussing on fossil fuel subsidies and the level of political donations and lobbying by this industry to distort political action on climate change.

In 2014 Australia's GDP was worth US$1454.68 billion, and the Gross world product was US$107.5 trillion. The Wall Street bailout of the US financial system cost US taxpayers an estimated US$14 trillion (Motherjones).

For Climate Finance our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced $1 billion over 5 years at COP21. But this is not additional to Australia's Foreign aid budget, which was massively slashed during the first two years of this government. Australian NGOs believe our climate finance should at least be equivalent to our GDP and emissions ranking which would mean ramping up Australia's climate finance to at least $1.6 billion per year by 2020 (according to WWF) as our fair share.

And it should not be a part of our existing Foreign Aid budget but should be in addition to this budget.

Australia acting at variance to Paris Agreement

I'd like to discuss how in just two months Australia is already acting at variance to the Paris Agreement.

  • Kyoto carryover credits - Malcolm Turnbull announced at COP21 that we would "meet and beat our 2020 emissions reduction target." But our target is so low - 5% on 2000 levels and he neglected to say we are using Kyoto carryover credits from the first commitment period to meet this target.

    Although legal to do this the Paris COP decision explicity states at 107: "Encourages Parties to promote the voluntary cancellation by Party...of units issued under the Kyoto Protocol" Several European countries, which exceeded much tougher targets, announced cancellation of these credits. (See With rising emissions Australia applies Kyoto credits to meet 2020 climate target)

  • Rapid reduction and Peaking emissions ASAP - In article 4 it says that "Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible". Australia's emissions, after a decade of year on year reductions, in 2015 rose by 1.3% and within that a 3% rise from the electricity sector.

    Energy analyst company Reputex estimates emissions growing to 4 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020 and that trend continuing with Australian emissions unlikely to peak before 2030. This trend at strong variance to that called for in the Paris Agreement. (See With rising emissions Australia applies Kyoto credits to meet 2020 climate target, Burying the bad news at Christmas: Australian Greenhouse Gas emissions rising)

  • Axing CSIRO climate science jobs breaches article 7 - The Abbott Government cut $112 million from CSIRO budget in 2014 (ABC report). Turnbull promised $90 million in December 2015 (ITNews report) to support innovation and increased commercialisation of research. A further $28 million was allocated to market innovation policy (ABC report).

    CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall announced staff cuts in two key climate research divisions. This undermines Australia's commitment in Article 7 of the Paris Agreement: "Strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making;". More than 2900 climate scientists have signed an open letter opposed to these cuts. (SMH report)

  • (A fourth negation of the spirit of the Paris Agreement, since this talk transpired, is Industry and Science Minister Christopher Pyne announcing on 24 February 2016 funding of a Fossil fuel growth centre while silence remains on Australia's Mission Innovation commitment to clean energy development technologies.)

Greg Hunt, Julie Bishop, Josh Frydenburg and others continue to push the line that the growth of coal, and continued exploration and exploitation of other fossil fuels is sustainable, clearly continuing Abbott line of coal being good for prosperity.

Comments by Julie Bishop won Australia a Fossil of the Day award in Paris.

Josh Frydenberg said at a speech the National Press Club on February 16: "The more [oil] exploration the better", clearly ignoring the imperative of the Paris agreement and climate change.

Research shows that 95% of Australian coal (88% of global coal) needs to remain unburnt to limit warming below 2C degrees. (Ekin and McGlade 2015)

Where to from here

COP21 decision Para 17: "Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 ̊C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below;"
Paris gave us an agreement, an international framework, although far from perfect, which our leaders have agreed to. It shows that our leaders well understand the problem. (See COP decision Para 17) Now we need to hold them individually and collectively to account.

This agreement throws the work back on to us at the grassroots to pressure our governments and business leaders to walk the talk.

We need to agitate to increase targets. Apply pressure to comprehensively regulate polluting companies and industries to reduce emissions rapidly. To transition our power industry to renewables as quickly as possible, and tackle our transport, land use change and agriculture emissions.

We need to continue to build a climate movement and link it with other struggles. We need big action from governments and business but also small changes in individual and social behaviour. There is a role everyone can play in this.

Like the climate redlines that civil society groups used within the conference, and that activists used in the streets of Paris, we need to draw our redlines here in Australia, including:
  • Closure of Hazelwood in the La Trobe Valley and a just transition program
  • Moratorium on onshore gas in Victoria
  • Support for ARENA, CEFC, higher RET, and a VRET
  • Stop Santos in the Pilliga drilling 850 CSG wells.
  • Stop BP and Chevron with their plans for oil exploration in Great Australian Bight
  • Stop new coal mines from going ahead in Galilee Basin and Liverpool Plains
  • Divestment from banks and companies with high carbon asset exposure

Andrea Bunting has a detailed account of the main points and discussion at this forum at Green Left Weekly: How can climate activists best organise to win?

In the lead up to this panel discussion Climate Action Moreland members John Englart and Andrea Bunting discussed the Paris conference, the Paris Agreement, and the civil society protests in Paris as part of the Green left radio Breakfast show on 22nd January, excerpted below:

Photo Credit: Lead image of John Englart by Len Botterill

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