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Saturday, April 23, 2016

As Greg Hunt signs #ParisAgreement, I am still ashamed of Australia's abysmally low climate targets

A Record 176 nations signed the Paris Agreement at a UN ceremony in New York, Australia among them. But Australia was also snubbed by not being invited to a meeting of the Coalition of High Ambition the night before. It seems our last minute belated membership that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was so happy to highlight and share with me last December in response to one of my tweets, hasn't brought any ongoing diplomatic benefit.

I am sure our support for coal, abysmally low targets and ineffective emission reduction policies that track for a 4 degree world have something to do with it. I tweeted my shame to Julie Bishop in Paris during COP21, she replied to me that there was no need for my shame, that she had accepted a late invitation to join the Coalition of High Ambition.

Funny but I still feel ashamed. Australia is signing on but is still not showing signs of walking the talk on climate action.

Effectively this is what Australia was being told in the diplomatic snub. Brilliant work AYCC.

Record 176 nations sign Paris Agreement at UN ceremony in New York

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the ceremony for signing the Paris Agreement.

"We are breaking records in this Chamber – and that is good news. But records are also being broken outside. Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere. We are in a race against time." Ban Ki-Moon said.

"I urge all countries to move quickly to join the Agreement at the national level so that the Paris Agreement can enter into force as early as possible. The window for keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degress, is rapidly closing. The era of consumption without consequences is over. We must intensify efforts to decarbonize our economies."

"And we must support developing countries in making this transition. The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create."

"Let us never forget -- climate action is not a burden; indeed, it offers many benefits. It can help us eradicate poverty, create green jobs, defeat hunger, prevent instability and improve the lives of girls and women. Climate action is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals." said Ban Ki-Moon in his address which can be read in full here.

Anthony Hobley, CEO of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, said: “The necessary carbon budget to deliver the 2 degrees target and maintain ambition for 1.5 degrees means the fossil fuel era is well and truly over. There is absolutely no room for error. Fossil fuel companies will need to accept that they are ex-growth stocks and must urgently re-assess their business plans accordingly.

“New energy technologies have become hugely cost-competitive in recent years and the effect of the momentum created in Paris will only accelerate that trend. The need for financial markets to fund the clean energy transition creates opportunity for growth on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution." said Hobley for Carbon Tracker.

'Which side of history will you be on?' Leanard Di Caprio lays it out

Just before the signing ceremony Leonard DiCaprio delivered an outstanding speech in which he compared action on climate change to the political will that was required for the abolition of slavery.

"More countries have come together to sign this agreement today than for any other cause in the history of humankind, and that is reason for hope," he said. "But unfortunately, the evidence shows us that that's not enough. Now is the time for bold, unprecedented action,"

"My friends, look at the delegates around you. It is time to ask each other, 'Which side of history will you be on?' As a citizen of our planet who has witnessed so much on this journey, I thank you all for everything you have done to lay the foundation of a solution to this crisis, but after 21 years of debates and conferences it is time to declare: No more talk, no more excuses, no more 10-year studies, no more allowing the fossil fuel companies to manipulate and dictate the science and policies that affect our future. This is the body that can do what is needed. All of you sitting in this very hall — the world is now watching. You will either be lauded by future generations, or be vilified by them." DiCaprio continued.

DiCaprio then quotes Abraham Lincoln from his message to Congress, December 1, 1862: "We will be remembered in spite of ourselves...The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation....We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth."

"That is our charge now. You are the last best hope of earth. We ask you to protect it or we and all living things we cherish are history." Di Caprio concluded.

Greg Hunt signs up Australia

Greg Hunt is a relatively junior government representative, so there was quite a wait going through all the Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other heads of state, then deputy leaders and Foreign Ministers till at last, all the Environment ministers. This is probably why Greg Hunt was sent, as we are on the outer with the Coalition of High Ambition and are diplomatically being snubbed for our poor climate action and targets. But still, Minister Hunt walked up and signed the agreement, and then had the obligatory photo opportunity with Christina Figueres.

"Once we sign in New York, we will then move immediately to begin the process of ratifying the Kyoto agreement and also the Paris Agreement. So those two things are in train. The Paris agreement we hope to have ratified as soon as possible and to be one of the countries to achieve it this year." Greg Hunt told Tony Jones on Lateline earlier in the week.

Here is Greg Hunt in New York talking up Australia's climate action credentials:

But John Connor from the Climate Institute said in a statement “Doing our bit to keep global warming below 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to achieve net zero emissions, are the heart of the Paris Agreement. Australia’s initial offer on its 2030 emission target is not consistent with limiting warming to 1.5-2°C. If others did the same, we would be on a path to 3-4°C. On current commitments, only Saudi Arabia will have higher per capita carbon pollution in 2030.”

Connor said the next 12 to 18 months were crucial because either party, should they be in government, will conduct reviews and face the widely recognised need to integrate climate and energy policy for post-2020 and long-term targets. The government has committed to consider a long-term emissions target in its review and Labor has already committed to net zero emissions by 2050.

“Australia has to increase its ambition. Australia urgently needs a plan to build an economy shifting towards net zero emissions. That plan needs to replace coal burning power stations with clean energy over the next 20 years as well as maximise opportunities in the growing global clean energy economy.” said Connor.

Here is a comparison of Australia's 26 to 28 per cent emission target by 2030 to the targets by other major nations. Yep. We are right near the bottom, at the back of the race to decarbonize.

Kellie Caught from WWF-Australia called on Australian political leaders, in the wake of signing the Paris Agreement, to increase climate change action and called attention to the national tragedy unfolding with coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

“It makes no sense to stand on the world stage in New York and proclaim that Australia is committed to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, and then go home and carry on with a business-as-usual approach to fossil fuel use,” she said. “The only way we can prevent ongoing repeats of the heart-breaking devastation of our Great Barrier Reef is if Australia shows leadership on climate change, starting with doing more at home.”

Ms Caught highlighted that Australia remains at the back of the pack on climate action with our carbon pollution increasing, one of the weakest pollution reduction targets in the world, and investment in renewable energy suffering a decline.

She called on the Treasurer Scott Morrison to announce on budget night a phase out of taxpayer funded fossil fuel subsidies, which currently sit at more than $7 billion every year.

“With a national election just around the corner, we ask our political leaders to act in our national interests and do far more than what Australia is currently doing to address the threat of climate change to our way of life.”

WWF also called on the Australian government to commit to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2035 and a plan to achieve net zero carbon pollution before 2050. Along with boosting renewables, WWF also wants old coal-fired power stations phased out.

“With a better plan and the right incentives, Australia could be fully powered by cleaner renewable electricity in 20 years, driving sustainable jobs and billions of dollars in investments along the way,” Ms Caught concluded in a media statement.

Just to correct the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

Has Australia already breached the Paris Agreement?

Hunt was questioned whether Australia had already breached the Paris Agreement in the cuts to public good climate research in two divisions in the CSIRO.

ABC Lateline compare Tony Jones asked Greg Hunt if the CSIRO job cuts breached the commitments in the Paris Agreement just before he flew out of Melbourne to attend the signing ceremony. (ABC Lateline 20 April 2016) The cuts to climate research programs were announced by CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall in early February.

"Well no, of course not. The first thing is that the fundamental element of the Paris Agreement is about countries taking action to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees and to aim for 1.5. We have already announced we will meet and beat the essential elements which are our 2020 targets and we are well on track to meet our 2030 targets." replied Greg Hunt.

Did you notice he first rejected the assertion, and then sidetracked the discussion on what he thinks are the fundamental elements of the agreement?

There is a specific Article in the Paris Agreement on support for climate science research. This is Article 7 which states "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;"

The CSIRO cuts to climate science research are pretty clearly in breach of this article. This is an international issue highlighted by a news report on the front page of the New York Times. More than 2900 international climate scientists have signed an open letter opposing these cuts to Australian climate science research (SMH report).

In proclaiming that Australia is meeting our 2020 targets, Minister Hunt, also obfuscates that this is despite Australia's rising total emissions which are unlikely to peak before 2030. Use of Kyoto Protocol carryover credits from Phase One period were strongly discouraged in the UNFCCC COP21 final decision document, Paragraph 107, which stated, "Encourages Parties to promote the voluntary cancellation by Party and non-Party stakeholders, without double counting of units issued under the Kyoto Protocol, including certified emission reductions that are valid for the second commitment period;".

So on the one hand Australia agreed to this decision in Paris, and then 10 days later applied to use these carryover credits. What hypocrisy!. Read my February 2016 article: With rising emissions Australia applies Kyoto credits to meet 2020 climate target

Tony Jones pushed Hunt on whether the Bureau of Meteorology, within the minister's portfolio, may take up some of the climate research capacity with 40 to 50 jobs and extra money allocated to the Bureau for these positions. Minister Hunt became quite aggravated by this questioning. Here is the full interchange:

Tony Jones: Very Briefly, so 40 to 50 climate scientists re-employed at the Bureau of Meteorology. Is that right?

Greg Hunt: I'll leave that for the Chief Scientist. You may not be right in terms of the administrative side, but there will be a resolution and I believe it will be a deep, strong, satisfactory resolution. For me it has been a very important step we have taken to be involved in this and inject ourselves.

Tony Jones: But briefly, a resolution that re-employs some of the sacked climate scientists from the CSIRO. Is that right?

Greg Hunt: I am not going to pre-empt...

Tony Jones: Is that what you are aiming for?

Greg Hunt: What I an aiming for is a good climate science outcome. I am not in a position, Tony, to frankly make comments on other portfolios and work being done by the Chief Scientist beyond what I have said, which is that ...

Tony Jones: Are you going to allocate money to employ a large number of climate scientists recently sacked by CSIRO?

Greg Hunt: I will leave that for CSIRO. You are the one who said we had issues to deal with about the great Paris climate Agreement. If you are ready? I am ready.

The rest of the interview revolved around the emergency conference call Hunt was having with state Environment Ministers on the situation with the Great Barrier Reef and other climate impacts.

According to reports 93 per cent of the reef has suffered severe bleaching due to climate change this year. This is the third major global coral reef bleaching event since 1998. (SMH report)

"Well unfortunately they haven't taken any action, but we have. We have invested in water quality recently: $4.8 million, the local action of gully erosion and we are taking global action in terms of the 90 billion tonnes of emissions that are being reduced through the Montreal protocol, and then the great global agreement."

Yet, current efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef from land-based pollution are unlikely to be enough according to the latest science reports. Kroon, Thorburn, Schaffelke and Whitten (2016) in a scientific review published in Global Change Biology titled Towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef from land-based pollution, conclude, "that recent efforts in the GBR catchments to reduce land-based pollution are unlikely to be sufficient to protect the GBR ecosystems from declining water quality within the aspired time frames." This is explained in a non-technical way in The Conversation article: Great Barrier Reef pollution controls are not enough: here’s what we can do

While Greg Hunt signing the Paris Agreement on behalf of Australia is an important commitment, sadly Australia is already acting at variance and in breach of the agreement, as I detailed in a presentation I gave in February 2016 in a report back on the COP21 conference.

Recent opinion polling has highlighted about 63 per cent of Australian now believe in the efficacy of human caused climate change. About 57 per cent of people think the government is not doing enough to address the issue.

Australia has 1.46 per cent of global emissions and is in the top 20 list of countries for emissions.

For the Paris Agreement to come into effect, at least 55 countries must sign representing at least 55 per cent of global emissions. Countries need to sign then ratify the agreement, with the ratification process taking different forms for each nation.

At the signing ceremony 176 nations signed the agreement and 15 countries also lodged their instruments of ratification. The Agreement is well on the way to ratification with a possibility it may come into force later this year.

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