Saturday 22 November 2014


The joint announcement by China and the United States on November 12 that they plan to cut carbon emissions substantially has been welcomed as a "game changer".  Many see this as giving real hope that an effective international scheme can be developed at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015.

The agreement is significant as both China and the US are the world's two largest economies as well as the world's major carbon polluters.  Together they account for around 40% of emissions.

The US has promised to cut its emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. China expects that its emissions will peak by then - but this may happen earlier than 2030. By 2030 20% of China's energy production will be from renewables. 

Where does this leave the Australian Government?  While various Government Ministers have welcomed the announcement, it is likely that there is considerable embarrassment because Australia is clearly being left even further behind. 

Since it came to office, the current Government has been intent on dismantling all it could of the previous government's measures on climate change – this action extending way beyond abolishing the carbon tax.  The fact that some of the climate initiatives remain in place is primarily because the Senate has blocked their abolition.

Australia's Post-2020 Emission Challenge, a report from the independent Climate Commission  claims Australia needs to commit to much stronger emissions reduction.  The report states:  "Australia's decarbonisation goal should be to achieve a net zero-emissions economy between 2040 and 2050."

This would mean commiting to a marked ramping up of our national goal from 2020.  Will the current government be prepared to make such a commitment at the Paris Summit in 2015?  Their current actions would suggest that is extremely unlikely.

The Australian Government sought to avoid having climate change discussed during the Brisbane G20 talks  because it claimed climate change was not an economic issue. Australia was certainly in a minority with this view.  Some discussion of climate change was inevitable because of the concerns of many of the major countries.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the dinosaurs leading Australia's government to acknowledge that climate change is a major economic issue. 

It will also be interesting to see how long Prime Minister Abbott will delay taking stronger climate action given that the major polluters are now showing their commitment to strong and effective action. The slowness of many major polluters to act has been used as an excuse by the Abbott Government for its piecemeal and ineffective climate policies. Now Mr Abbott does not have that excuse.