The Abbott government is refusing to reaffirm its commitment to the internationally agreed target of a two degree limit to global temperature increases after being pushed by the French Ambassador to make an ambitious contribution at the impending Paris climate talks.
French Ambassador Christophe Lecourtier took to the press this morning to urge Australia to stay the two degree course, an intervention hinting the French – who will host the Paris climate talks in December – are concerned about the Abbott government’s climate change agenda.
Australia committed to the target along with 196 other nations at the Cancun climate talks in 2010, but recent moves from the federal government have raised questions over whether it intends to meet those commitments.
Last week’s Energy White Paper included just two mentions of climate change, essentially to praise its ‘Direct Action Plan’, a policy which has been roundly condemned as inadequate by experts.
“There’s no indication that the government sees there being a link between energy policy and climate change policy,” Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler said at the time.
“There’s literally no mention of climate change and very little mention of renewable energy in the paper.”
In fact, the White Paper advocates a “technology neutral” approach to future energy policy, essentially ruling out significant government attempts to promote clean energy, and continues the government’s line in advocating for a fossil fuel future as Asian markets develop.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Tony Abbott has been blocking international efforts from the US, UK and France to reduce subsidies for new dirty coal-fired power stations in Asia.
Concerns over the government’s commitment to the two degree target started with the release of an issues paper on Australia’s post-2020 climate targets last month, which failed to mention the target and relied on modelling benchmarks which would put the world on track for at least 3.6 degrees of warming.
Similarly, the Energy White Paper appears to rely on the ‘four degree scenario’ modelled by the International Energy Agency.
In a statement to New Matilda ambassador Lecourtier said France is “confident that Australia will submit an ambitious emissions reduction contribution in due time”. Tony Abbott is due to meet with the French President Francois Hollande next week.
Because it is hosting the Paris climate talks, it largely falls to the French to coordinate a successful climate pact, and the main objective of the talks is to thrash out a plan to meet the two degree target.
With that in mind, Greens leader Christine Milne had a message for the French President.
“Don’t just try and encourage and cajole Australia,” she said. "They are climate deniers, you need to stand up to Tony Abbott and you need to force him in the meeting to commit to two degrees or better.”
A spokesperson for Environment Minister Greg Hunt refused to directly answer questions over whether the target is to be retained.
“Our commitment is to reduce emissions by five per cent by 2020 and we’re currently undertaking consultation with the community to find out what our post 2020 targets should be,” he said.
Media has reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs has similarly refused to commit to the target.
Its website, however, notes that “in 2010, governments agreed that emissions need to be reduced to ensure global temperature increases are limited to below two degrees Celsius”.
“All countries, including major emitters, need to play a role in meeting this global goal,” the website says.
If the government has abandoned the two degree target it will find itself firmly at odds with Labor.
"Australia has signed up to a commitment to ensure that global warming does not exceed two degrees Celsius," Butler said last week, "because all of the scientific advice is that if it does that – if it goes beyond two degrees – the damage done to the globe will be very significant".
Today the Greens said they have "absolutely no doubt Tony Abbott is not committed to two degrees".
“He needs to tell us, he needs to tell our Pacific Island neighbours, he needs to tell President Hollande whether Australia is going to commit to two degrees or not,” Milne said.
“If we were to keep to two degrees it means we need to decarbonise five times faster than we’re doing now,’ she said.
Under the Abbott government Milne said Australia had become “a global pariah when it comes to climate change”.
“At the climate talks in Peru Australia was completely on the outer,” she said.
“No one could understand why Australia had gone so far backwards.”
Australia is the only country to abolish a carbon pricing mechanism – a policy which has now been adopted by 40 countries.
The government has also led a sustained assault on the Renewable Energy Target which led to an 88 per cent drop in investment in large-scale renewables last year, and pushed Australia back from being the fourth most attractive place to invest in renewables, to the tenth.
This resistance to renewables is despite the fact, as Lecourtier put it, “Australia has all the assets to be a model of a transition towards low carbon economies”.
Milne was less diplomatic: “It’s an absolute act of cowardice [for Abbott]to sit here with his coal mates and tell them everything is fine, he’s going to prop them up, he’s going to attack renewable energy, but then refuse to front up and come clean with the rest of the world on what Australia intends to commit to.”