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.