The G7 has added momentum for climate action in the lead up to the Paris conference, agreeing to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century.
Though a largely symbolic move, advocates say the agreement will increase pressure on Australia to come to the table with ambitious and fair emissions reductions policies when the governments of the world convene in Paris in December.
A communique published by the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan highlighted the challenge they’ve set themselves “can only be met by a global response”.
Much of what was announced was already on the books – the US and UK have both flagged cuts of around 80 per cent by 2050 – but the show of solidarity will have widespread ramifications, particularly for climate recalcitrants like Australia.
The nations of the G7 represent more than half of global wealth and are now officially gunning for the “upper end” of a 40 to 70 per cent cut to emissions by mid-century compared to 2010, with a view to “de-carbonisation” their economies by the end of the century.
Yesterday’s announcement represents something of a departure for Canada, whose Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been perceived as an ally of Tony Abbott’s lackadaisical approach to climate politics.
“As someone living in Australia it is sign for countries like us,” said Blair Palese, the CEO of climate advocacy group 350.org.
“From a positioning point of view and where [Canada] fit in economically on the global stage they see it as too much of a risk to be isolated. Australia hasn’t figured it out yet.”
“Line in the sand wise, it really says ‘what side of the line are you on’.”
The agreement was welcomed by environmental groups, some of which hailed it as the ‘end of the fossil fuel age’. But Michale Brune, the Executive Director of America’s influential Sierra Club cautioned that, “leaders need to match their ambition with concrete, long-term, and enforceable policies to fight the climate crisis”.
Canada has submitted its pledge ahead of Paris and only committed to a 30 per cent cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, a level of ambition well below what developed nations will need to keep within the two degree guard rail the world has set itself to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change.
Japan, considered the other G7 laggard, is yet to submit its commitment, which is expected to be similarly unambitious.
After a week of probing from other nations last week at the United Nations climate talks in Germany, however, Australia has emerged as one of the most recalcitrant of the developed nations.
Australia’s current emissions reductions target is 5 per cent below 2000 level emissions by 2020, which is just one third of what’s recommended by the Climate Change Authority.
The Abbott government will unveil its Paris targets in June, but it has shown little enthusiasm for deep cuts to emissions. Instead, it routinely argues that “coal is good”.
Last month Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told parliament that a new $5 billion fund could be used to subsidise some of the world’s largest ever coalmines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.
A key justification industry and the Abbott government have deployed is that coal is the only realistic way to alleviate the energy poverty suffered by the world’s poorest.
But the G7 communique contradicts that argument, instead refocusing global efforts to boost investment and deployment of renewables in developing nations to allow the third world to ‘leapfrog’ fossil fuels as their economies industrialise.
Through a combination of public and private sector investment the G7 nations have set themselves a target of raising $100 billion to that end by 2020.
The communique also recognised the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund as “a key institution of the future climate finance architecture” to rebalance the scales so that poor nations don’t wind up paying the price of the developed world’s earlier emissions.
According to United Nations Environment Program, climate change adaptation and mitigation could cost Africa $50 billion a year by mid-century even if ‘dangerous’ climate change is avoided.
Abbott and Harper had initially been isolated by their refusal to tip into the Green Climate Fund, derided by Abbott as a “Bob Brown bank on an international scale”, but have since bowed to international pressure and made modest contributions.
The fund is expected to become operational some time this year and will be used to funnel money to developing nations. The G7 has again made Africa a key focus of the fund.
A new goal of “increasing by up to 400 million the number of people in the most vulnerable countries who have access to direct or indirect insurance” against climate impacts was also adopted.
“This announcement makes it clear the age of polluting fossil fuels like coal and gas is over,” said Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, climate change manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“Australia risks being left behind if we don’t rapidly transform our energy sector to make it clean and pollution free,” she said.
While the G7 prepares to expand renewables Australia has largely continued to subsidise coal while stifling green energy since February last year, when the future of the Renewable Energy Target was thrown into jeopardy after a climate skeptic was appointed to review it.
Investment in the sector plunged by nearly 90 per cent in 2014 and has continued to flatline while record investment was recorded globally.
“You really do have to ask, is the Australian government willing to throw away our national economy for this commitment to fossil fuels because that’s what it looks like,” Palese said.
“Yesterday’s announcement pressures Australia to a point of ‘you’re going to have to tell your own public, but also international governments, where you stand after the G7 commitment’,” she said.
It doesn’t change much materially, but Palese argues yesterday’s announcement has huge symbolic power that helps in developing a platform in the lead up to Paris and “regular rounds of ambition reviews in the future”.
“The message it sends is ‘come prepared to do a deal because we’re intending to get something out of that meeting.”
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