Update from Paris

An update from the Climate Council following the first 48 hours of the UN conference on climate change in Paris.

Originally published on the Climate Council’s website here.  We’ve copied it to our blog as it provides clarity on the situation after the first 48 hours.

The Climate Council’s (www.climatecouncil.org.au) purpose is to provide independent, authoritative climate change information to the Australian public. Why? Because our response to climate change should be based on the best science available. The organisation and its supporters together do everything they can to spread independent and accurate information on climate change.

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The Climate Council are now in Paris for the climate talks – along with Climate Councillor Lesley Hughes. We’re over here doing what the Climate Council does best – keeping Australians informed! You may have already seen us on the Today ShowABC News 24,  SBS or in the Guardian. In addition to talking to journalists and finding great stories of progress from all over the world to inspire and share with the community, we’re also connecting with organisations and individuals around the world to create partnerships for the future – so we can make an even bigger impact.

It’s rather intimidating to arrive at a conference with over 45,000 attendees and 150 heads of state! There is so much happening, but it’s truly exciting that such a huge array of people from around the world who are working on the solutions are here. I’ve gone into more detail on how this conference is different to others over on the Climate Council website, but I wanted to email you directly to share some reflections on the first two days. There’s a fair bit to get through, but as I said – there’s a lot going on!

The issues being discussed at the Paris climate talks are complex and wide-ranging, however there are three big ones that are dominating the conversation:

1. Renewable energy has been a big focus, with three significant developments:

  • Prime Minister Modi of India and President Hollande of France together launched an international Solar Alliance between over 100 developed and developing countries, as well as industries, laboratories and institutions. India will host this initiative and contribute approximately 30 million U.S. dollars over the next 5 years to build it up. Modi also confirmed that India will add 100 GW of solar power by 2022, from a total capacity of 4 GW at present.

  • Member nations of the Climate Vulnerables Forum (including countries like Bangladesh, Philippines Sri Lanka and our neighbours, Pacific Island Countries) have shown what climate leadership looks like in launching a bold call for the world to move to 100% renewable energy by 2050. This group is calling for a complete phase out of fossil fuels by mid-century and for emissions to peak as soon as possible.

  • Bill Gates announced the biggest clean energy investment fund in history, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Made up of himself, and 27 other philanthropists, investment fund managers and tech CEOs, the fund is part of an initiative called Mission Innovation, that aims to reinvigorate and accelerate global clean energy innovation and make clean energy widely affordable.

2. Fossil fuel subsidies

New Zealand PM John Key presented a message to the forum from nearly 40 nations calling for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies. All G20 countries continue to subsidise fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) collectively spending an estimated US$ 452 billion annually, four times the subsidies received by renewable energy.

Absurdly, many countries are currently implementing policies to tackle climate change whilst providing public subsidies for fossil fuels at the same time. Australia is included in this group – subsidising fossil fuels by $4 billion a year.

3. Supporting poor countries to cope with climate change

Climate change is a global problem affecting all countries but some are more vulnerable than others (e.g. Australia’s Asia-Pacific neighbours), and not all nations have the capacity to deal with climate impacts. As a result, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has established a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to provide US$ 100 billion worth of resources and expertise worldwide over the next five years for poorer countries to prepare and cope with the effects of climate related disasters, as well as to reduce their emissions.

Australia announced at the climate talks here in Paris that it will contribute at least $1 billion over the next five years. However, that has been criticised by aid organisations because it involves reallocating existing money from the aid budget rather than a commitment of new money. Further, the Climate Institute and others estimate that a fair contribution from Australia’s public purse is in the order of $1.5 billion a year by 2020. More on this as the week continues.

What has Australia been doing?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrived at the Paris talks with pollution reduction targets that are far weaker that what is required to protect Australia from climate change. The targets are also considerably behind those of many of our trading partners and allies.

However, during the conference Turnbull did commit to investing in a global research and development fund announced by Bill Gates, in partnership with several technology innovation companies and countries. Each of the 20 participating countries (including Australia) will seek to double its state-directed clean energy research and development investment over the next five years. The full details of Australia’s commitment are expected to be laid out in an innovation statement next week.

While funding for research is always welcome, we must also remember that there is no need to wait to develop solutions to tackle climate change – we have solutions already! Indeed, ClimateWorks analysis in 2014 found that Australia could achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 using all existing technology and maintaining economic prosperity.

Earlier this year Australia became one of the only countries to legislate to reduce its commitment to renewable energy, with the federal government slashing the renewable energy target. This will cost the country an estimated $5-6 billion in lost investment by 2020. To tackle climate change it is critical to put in place policies that will roll out existing renewable energy technologies, as well as the next phase of R&D.

What about an agreement?

The big question on a lot of people’s’ minds is whether an agreement will be reached – although there are a number of vexed issues, we’re optimistic that there will be an agreement out of the Paris talks. The nature and the scale of the agreement is what is up for grabs this week. So watch this space!

The other question, of course, is whether that agreement will be sufficient. The short answer here, is ‘no’. Action is coming late in the game and climate change is already upon us. But, the Paris agreement will be an important milestone, marking substantive change that is happening world wide. As you know, action will have to continue to accelerate if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Thank you for your support and we’ll be in touch again with more updates over the two weeks! Also for up to the minute commentary follow our twitter and Facebook pages where will will be posting interesting tidbits through each day.

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