Paris update end week 1: Ministers need to deliver best possible agreement

This report from the Paris climate summit — COP21 — came from Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of the Climate Institute, Sunday 6 December, Paris time.

Paris update: End of week one — Ministers need to lead to deliver best possible Paris agreement

If you have ever given up a really bad habit, you know how hard it can be. Negotiating an agreement that seeks to accelerate the transition from our habitual use of fossil fuels to clean energy right across the world is tough. This is not a surprise, and is reflected in the difficult progress counties have made in Paris last week on the new draft global climate change agreement.

Over the first week in Paris we have seen highs and lows.

At the beginning of the week, over 150 leaders from around the world kicked the summit off on a high. Most sent a very clear message – addressing climate change is central to our ability to maintain the health and prosperity of our citizens and economies. Many, including the USA and China, clearly identified that with action comes opportunity. The message was we can and must transition to clean energy because it is central to economic growth and security.

Some may dismiss such statements as rhetorical or just symbolism. This fails to acknowledge the art of politics in the UN process. The clear message from leaders sets the bar their negotiating teams have to meet. It signals the political direction of travel to the public and investors around the world.

Our Prime Minister, amongst others, highlighted the need to achieve net zero emissions. How domestic policies help achieve net zero emissions within a handful of decades is now the bar against which they will need to be judged.

We also saw substance in the leaders’ remarks. USA, China, India, Australia and 16 other countries committed to double investment over the next five years into the research and development of clean energy. India launched an international solar alliance of more than 120 countries. The alliance aims to bring government, industry and research institutions together to rapidly increase investment in solar power generation. The African Union and African Development Bank jointly pledged to double the whole continents energy generation capacity, using only renewables.

Even if these announcements were only implemented in part, they will have real economic impacts. Global power sector investments in clean energy already outstrip investments in fossil fuels, and implementing these commitments will only boost that further.  However, in Australia innovation investments will be empty symbolism for decades if there is no modernisation plan to replace existing coal fired stations with clean energy.

After the fanfare of the leaders’ statements, officials got down to work and we quickly came back down to earth. Traditional tensions emerged, particularly around how to scale up financial support for the vulnerable and poor nations. Tensions have been exacerbated by the regressive role Saudi Arabia, in particular, had been playing. The petro state knows that its economy based on the development of oil is not well positioned for a world where investment in clean energy far outstrips investment in fossil fuels. Like a wounded bull, it is attempting to damage progress that would facilitate greater action around the world.

Now, the question is  are we on the way back up? We entered the Paris meeting with a draft agreement that was over 50 pages long. The new draft to be considered by Ministers next week is now just over 20.

The new draft agreement includes the ingredients of effective outcome in Paris that can further boost global action. Options exist to update targets every five years towards the agreed less than 2oC global warming goal, define a collective system to ensure the actions countries take are transparent, and support the world’s most vulnerable nations participate in climate change solutions.

An agreement that includes these elements can reinforce the signal to communities, investors and businesses around the world that action to limit pollution and shift to clean energy is an unstoppable force. This can be achieved but it is going to require strong political leadership from ministers when they arrive next week.

So as the negotiations gear up for the engagement of Ministers this week, including Australia’s Foreign Minister, most of the elements that would continue to drive global action are in the draft agreement. Momentum in the real economy continues to grow and it is now up to ministers to find the compromises that will see Paris accelerate the transition to a net zero emissions, climate neutral, global economy.

Assessment of where are we at in Paris – field is still wide open

Before Paris, The Climate Institute released an analysis of the key issues and possible outcome scenarios. This concluded that the Paris agreement won’t fix everything but the best possible agreement will be one that very clearly sets the world on a path to the international goal of avoiding global warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels and meets three key criteria: Is it bankable? Does it build trust and accountability? Is it fair? The below graphic gives an overview of current negotiations against these criteria.

The graphic below maps the progress that political and real economy actions around the meeting, and the elements of the current draft agreement against the scenarios for Paris that The Climate Institute has outlined. The scenarios are:

  • Catalyst: The agreement sets the scene for countries, business and investors to accelerate actions to end emissions through time.
  • Momentum: The process to step up action is less defined, but the 2°C goal is kept in sight. Domestic actions develop over time and new targets are set.
  • Patchwork: Lack of clarity on key issues, but investment in clean energy and climate solutions continues within those countries and industries, seeing action as part of their own long term prosperity.


News from Paris – day 1 Turnbull’s aid offer

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave a speech at the Paris climate change summit and not everyone is happy. In short PM Turnbull said that Australia: supports a new – and truly global – climate agreement; will ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; joins the aim to double investment in clean energy innovation over the next five years and; will contribute at least $1 billion over the next five years from our existing aid budget both to build climate resilience and reduce emissions.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said that it welcomed the three new commitments – Kyoto protocol, doubling clean technology R&D, additional climate finance for vulnerable countries – as useful steps towards tackling climate change, but Australia can and should do more, with current technology, as part of its fair share to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. However, WWF was disappointed the funds committed are not scaling up from previous years and will be drawn from an already diminished aid budget given that climate change is an additional challenge for communities and requires additional funding. Also Australia’s contribution is far less than comparable countries “and falls significantly short of the AU$1.6bn per year by 2020 that WWF is calling for.”

Oxfam was also disappointed that climate change funding was being drawn from existing aid funding and said that Australia’s announcement was a start, “but the Government will need to commit to far more if we’re to do the right thing by poor and vulnerable communities around the world, and to do our part towards reaching a fair and effective agreement.”

Plan International, one or the largest children’s development organisations in the world, said it was “disappointing to see a $1 billion in climate change adaption programs is to be diverted from an already savagely cut Australian aid program” and pointed to their report, We Stand As One: Children, young people and climate change, which highlighted that, of an estimated more than 150,000 deaths attributable to climate change early last decade, almost 90 per cent were children.

Plan also mentioned its calls for Australian government action: reduce emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2025; 60 per cent by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050; increase investment in renewable energy in Australia, and fund access to affordable renewable energy across the developing world; place a greater emphasis on Australia’s contribution to climate change in the national curriculum, including impacts on the poorest countries, and conducting national consultations on what young people want from the government; address causes and impacts of climate change in the poorest countries by contributing new and additional funds to Australia’s existing aid commitments.

The Australian Council for International Development said the aid was not new money,

“Australia is already spending close to $200 million per year through its aid program on climate change initiatives,” said CEO Mark Purcell. “While we welcome the Government acknowledging the climate change challenges faced by our Asia-Pacific neighbours, this announcement lacks any ambition.”

“Measures to mitigate climate change, such as investment in renewable energy, can help lift people out of poverty and help boost economic development in some of the poorest communities in our region.

“Our aid budget is already depleted, and next year will reach its lowest level on record,” Mr Purcell said.

Lining up climate change targets

The Conservation Council welcomes the commitment by Federal Parliamentary Labor Leader Bill Shorten for Australia to be zero net emissions by 2050. However while the 45% reduction target by 2030 is a significant improvement on the Coalition Government 2030 targets it still falls well short of what the science tells we need to do.

We call on our national Government to commit to a plan for a climate friendly future. The plan must:

  • End Climate Pollution: by reducing our national emissions by 65-80% by 2030 and being net zero emissions by 2040-2050
  • Clean up the energy system: 100% renewable energy with at least the first 50% before 2030
  • Phase out Fossil Fuels: phase out all coal-fired power plants while ensuring a just transition for communities and workers. A ban on new coal mines and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

Locally we congratulate ACT leaders on actions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We will be actively participating in the review of the ACT greenhouse gas emissions announced November 2015.

We need tri-partisan — ACT Greens, ACT Labor, ACT Liberals — support for the following ACT greenhouse gas emissions targets:

  • 40% greenhouse gas reductions by 2020 and zero net emissions (100%) by 2040
  • 100% renewable energy for electricity by at least 2025; and
  • complete ACT Government divestment from fossil fuel companies (projects) by 2018

The ACT Climate Council has recommended that ACT greenhouse reduction targets be amended to:

  • 70% on 2005 levels by 2025
  • 75% by 2030
  • 90% by 2040
  • 100 % by 2050

Note: our current ACT targets are:

  • 40% by 2020 on 1990 levels
  • 80% by 2050
  • Zero net emissions by 2060
  • 90% renewable energy by 2020

Weeds funding – looking at the figures

The Conservation Council has prepared a working version of a spreadsheet published by the Government following June 2015 Estimates questions.

There was debate in the Legislative Assembly on 19 November 2015 on environmental weed management.

Weed management in the ACT needs about $2 million a year to stay on top of issues with top-up funds for crises or to break the back of particular issues. Biodiversity Offsets should not be used to inflate weed management funding given that offsets are for ‘additional’ activity.

ACT Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2015

There is good news and bad news in the ACT Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 2014‑15 released 29 October 2015. The good news is that the ACT’s overall emissions and emissions-per-person are below the peak of 2010‑11. The bad news is that, compared to 2013‑14, we have more emissions overall – up 4.6% – and more emissions per person – up 3.1%.

There are adjustments to the report methodology which, when applied to previous years, might show that ACT emissions have previously been higher than reported. However, greenhouse emissions have still gone up in the latest report for two main reasons. The first is that the electricity that the ACT used had more emissions than before. When there was a price on carbon the overall “emissions factor” of electricity was lower, mostly because more Snowy Hydro electricity was brought into the system. The second reason our emissions have gone up is that we used more electricity mostly because of a colder than normal winter and a hotter than usual summer. Human responses to weather variations are themselves contributing to climate change through increased emissions!

ACT Minister for the Environment Simon Corbell’s message is that “Renewables Set To Reduce Act’s Emissions Despite Carbon Price Repeal” and the trend of emissions reductions is expected to continue due to more and more of Canberra’s electricity being converted to renewable energy. The Canberra Times described it as “Greenhouse gas emissions on the rise, despite 40 per cent reduction target”.

We need to take a few warnings. Reducing emissions is not a set and forget decision. It requires monitoring and managing and governments across the board need to be working towards an emissions reduction goal. We also need to note that heating and cooling remain major uses of energy and we need to have buildings that require minimal energy inputs.

The Conservation Council welcomes the release of the latest ACT Greenhouse Gas Inventory and commends the government on collecting, sharing and improving emissions data. The faster release is commendable: four months as against two and a half years! At the same time we believe that previous figures should be reassessed using current methodology in order that better comparisons between years can be made.

The Conservation Council notes that as emissions associated with electricity in the ACT are reduced through increased provision of renewable energy there will need to be a greater focus on other emissions sources. Natural gas, in particular, should probably not be networked into new suburbs as we convert to low or zero-emissions electricity. And we need to pay greater attention to transport options, not just zero-emissions light rail. We need to increase the usage of public transport and reduce the emissions of the vehicles through electric-only or hybrid buses. We also need to assist the shift from fossil-fuel private vehicles to non-emitting vehicles and modes of transport.

Spring Mingle and Environment Awards 2015

The Spring Mingle held 30 October 2015 was a great event with a great location and fine weather. Thank you to all those who attended and especially thanks to the volunteers throughout the year and on the night who helped the Conservation Council and in many ways make possible the work of the Conservation Council.

A feature of the night was the announcement of the Conservation Council ACT Region 2015 Environment Awards:

Thanks to Rafe Morris and Josh Buckler for music and the Snedden Hall and Gallop Lawyers for support and to all donors of raffle prizes and silent auction items.

Tom Swann accepting Environmentalist of the Year Award 2015
Vanessa Farrelly; Emma Bliss; Clea Porteous-Borthwick and Ani Lee
Moira and John Rowland Young Environmentalist of the the Year 2015: Vanessa Farrelly (Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network) – Winner; Emma Bliss (AYCC) – Highly Commended; Clea Porteous-Borthwick and Ani Lee – finalists (who are changing their school’s practices and inspiring their fellow students).
Bec, Finn (the youngest attendee) and Andrew at the Spring Mingle
Bec, Finn (the youngest attendee) and Andrew at the Spring Mingle


We’re in! Conservation Council hosts People’s Climate March

The Conservation Council is proud to be hosting the Canberra People’s Climate March, 12 midday Sunday 29 November at Parliament House — Register here!

On the eve of UN climate negotiations in Paris, people will come together in thousands of cities across the world calling for leaders to act. In Australia, national events are planned in capital cities and Canberra will bring the message to Parliament House. Sign up now and support us to help make it happen. The Conservation Council is leading the effort in the ACT, alongside our local partners 350 Canberra, AYCC Canberra, Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change and Unions ACT. You can join the event on facebook here and invite everyone!

Canberra is a world leader in local emissions reductions, our 40% emissions reduction target for 2020, and our 100% renewable energy plan for 2025 have seen our emissions peak. If the world followed Canberra’s lead, we’d be well on the way to protecting our climate and a just and safe world. We will bring our message to International and National decision makers that it’s time to follow our lead. Then we’ll walk together to Reconciliation Place for a community festival celebrating our successes.

The UN Paris negotiations are an important milestone, but we’ll need strong community pressure in the years ahead to turn the Paris agreements into real climate action. So join us – to change everything we need everyone. The Conservation Council is in! Are you?

To bring about real change, there’s so much more to do.  We’re hosting lots of exciting events in the lead up to the big day.

Get informed: learn about climate change and how we might respond

This Changes Everything screening Tuesday 10 November, Dendy Canberra City

This Changes Everything screening Monday 16 November, Event Cinema Manuka

Join us for premier screenings of This Changes Everything. What if confronting the climate crisis is the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world? Filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over four years, This Changes Everything is an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change. Directed by Avi Lewis, and inspired by Naomi Klein’s international non-fiction bestseller This Changes Everything, the film presents seven powerful portraits of communities on the front lines, from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta Tar Sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond.

Get active: volunteer nights every Thursday at the Conservation Council

Help be part of Canberra history! There’s heaps to do to help make the Canberra People’s Climate March on Sunday 29 November the biggest and most diverse climate action we’ve seen! Join People’s Climate March HQ between 5-8pm at the Conservation Council on Thursdays to:

– Reach out to new organisations and networks who need to be at the march
– Help create the banners
– Call our supporters to get them along
– Pick up posters and flyers and form teams for stalls or to start conversations about the People’s Climate March with your neighbours and colleagues

Support us to help make it happen!  There’s a lot that goes into a big event, so if you can support us donate now.

There’s nowhere else to be on Sunday 29 November at midday – we’re in!  Are you?

Download our poster now

Spring Mingle 2015 and Environment Awards

Join us to celebrate our environment achievements at the 2015 Spring Mingle. Connect with other Canberrans and people from the region who are passionate about the environment. We will celebrate the announcement of the 2015 ACT environment awards which have attracted a good field of nominations.

There will be a cash bar, music, entertainment, a silent auction and we will provide lovely food as usual. We will also welcome our Board for 2016.

What:   Spring Mingle

When:   6:00 – 9:00 pm, Friday 30 October 2015

Where:  Rooftop, Lena Karmel Lodge.

Who:     Friends, member groups, supporters of the Conservation Council and key stakeholders

Register now