03) This article series will keep you informed in the lead-up to the COP 26 climate meeting in November. Stay tuned…
Did you know that in 1992, the Australian government willingly signed-on to a global treaty, along with 156 other countries, that committed them to preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”?
The meeting was held in Rio De Janeiro, it was called the ‘Earth Summit’, and it was here that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established. This treaty is an instrument of ‘international law’, which means it’s binding only to countries, not individuals, and only to those countries who agree to be bound by it.
But importantly, the ambitions of the UNFCCC agreement also echo into the modern day, and that’s through the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, and this year its COP 26, to be held in Glascow.
It’s important to note here that the United Nations isn’t an omnipotent force that makes laws, and then forces all countries to abide by them. Instead, it operates under international law, which is different to the domestic laws of a particular country because nations must choose to sign-up.
Since 1994, when the original treaty came into force, its received universal adoption, with 194 countries agreeing to become Parties to the Convention.
It was a staggering milestone. Not only because they managed to achieve such widespread agreement on the need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but because they did at a time when there was far less scientific certainty than there is today.
In the current fractured state of the international world order, it’s hard to imagine a similar multilateral agreement being made today. And, it is within this is the hyper-politicized world that the COP 26 meeting will attempt to drive agreement on reducing emissions and tackling climate change.
The key point however, is that COP 26 is a meeting of countries who made an agreement, Australia included.
Will Australia Keep its Word on the Paris Agreement?
And of course a subsequent agreement was made in Paris in 2015. We’ve all heard of the Paris Agreement, it outlined, for the first time, legally binding rules around climate change. Countries agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and aim for limiting warming to 1.5°C.
The COP 26 summit brings together world leaders and climate scientists in order to agree and accelerate action on the Paris Agreement. But so far, the Australian government seems reluctant to arrive at the conference with increased ambition around emissions reduction.
Australia’s ambitions have stalled with the same commitment from 2015, made under Tony Abbott, of reducing emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and the world is starting to notice.
Jonathan Pershing, the US President’s deputy special envoy for climate change, told a recent conference that we needed to do more.
“It would be really helpful to see Australia step forward with a more ambitious effort,” he said. “I would submit that Australia could be much more aggressive.”
Similarly Alok Sharma, the UK’s Minister of State, and the president of the upcoming climate conference in Glasgow, called-out our weak commitment.
“I urge Australia to step up with big, bold commitments ahead of COP26 in November,” he said.
The UK has promised to cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030, the EU is aiming for a 55 per cent reduction, and the US is targeting 52 per cent by 2030.
If Australia fails to make ambitious emissions cuts it risks not only being left behind in terms of clear-energy technology, global trade and investment opportunities; it also risks committing that most egregious of sins, and that’s not keeping its word.
Now that’s un-Australian.