- Don Henry
- The Age, December 9, 2008
Australia's future depends on climate change negotiations.
IT'S cold and grey in Poznan and progress towards international action on climate change seems as slow as the Warta River flowing through the city. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong will arrive today and will be part of a working group negotiating the "shared vision" that underpins the negotiations. The Poznan meeting is the mid-point of the climate negotiations that will conclude in Copenhagen in December next year.
Copenhagen will be the best — and possibly last — chance the world will have to avoid dangerous climate change, as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported to all governments that global greenhouse emissions need to peak and start coming down no later than 2015 to give the world a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
The current negotiations are set to agree to a new climate treaty starting in 2012, so time is running out.
If we want to save the Great Barrier Reef, our water supplies, our beaches and billions of people around the world vulnerable to climate change, this is our moment in history.
Obviously no one country can do it alone. Australia's future depends on these negotiations delivering strong concerted action by all countries to get global emissions down. The IPCC has advised governments that global emissions will need to be cut by 50 to 85 per cent by 2050 if we are to avoid a 2 degree or greater rise in global temperatures.
It makes clear that to do our fair share, developed countries, as a group, will need to lead this effort and cut emissions by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020.
Developing countries have agreed they would take "measurable and verifiable" action to reduce their emissions.
At Poznan this week, Australia can ensure this science-based advice informs the negotiations.
We can make sure the talks move from generalities to specifics, with the IPCC targets used as the basis for negotiations.
We can encourage others with the detailed findings of Professor Ross Garnaut and Australian Treasury's studies that deep cuts in emissions are feasible and affordable in Australia and early global action is the most cost-effective way forward.
US President-elect Barack Obama said last month in a message to Poznan delegates that he would be watching these negotiations closely. And he foreshadowed a very different approach from the one we have seen from George Bush's negotiating team.
Mr Obama said: "Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global co-operation on climate change. Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high, the consequences too serious."
While Obama is not yet in office, Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong are.
Aside from urging global action, there are two other things Australia can do to be influential and constructive in achieving a global outcome.
First, we need to do the right thing at home so others will listen. Garnaut recommended that "in preparation for Copenhagen, Australia should … express its willingness to reduce emissions from 2000 levels by 25 per cent by 2020 and by 90 per cent by 2050 in the context of an international agreement".
Australia's commitment would give a real lift to the international negotiations. Just a couple of days ago South Africa resorted to publicly calling on Australia to come forward with credible and ambitious mid-term targets within the 25 to 40 per cent range for 2020.
And, as reported in yesterday's Age, a Chinese Government climate adviser said Australia could derail the global talks if its 2020 target for reducing carbon emissions came in at less than 25 per cent.
The Treasury modelling, released in October, poured cold water on claims by big polluters that a strong target would be bad for business. In fact, it showed the difference between strong and weak targets is negligible for the economy.
Treasury found a 25 per cent target would reduce average annual GNP growth by just one tenth of 1 per cent less than if the world did nothing to cut emissions. But many of Australia's special places — priceless treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Alps and Kakadu — face complete devastation from climate change unless Australia shows greater leadership and takes real steps to reduce our carbon pollution.
Second, based on solid action at home, Australia can reach out to China, the US, Indonesia, Japan and the European Union to build support for action.
We're not the biggest or most powerful country on earth but as a "middle power" our voice is respected and we need it to be heard in our region like never before. A cautious "business as usual" approach is not good enough in these negotiations.
We have no other option but to play to win. As Garnaut has reminded us: "The failure of our generation would lead to consequences that would haunt humanity till the end of time."
Don Henry is executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He is in Poznan for the UN Climate Change Conference.