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As COP27 starts Australia supports Loss and Damage finance, bids for COP31 in 2026 and a new Climate Change Ambassador

As the UN climate change conference COP27 starts in Sharm El-Sheikh, Australia has announced our new Climate Change Ambassador to be career public servant Kristin Tilley.

Australia is also launching a bid with Pacific nations to host the 2026 UN climate change conference (COP31). These conferences are rotated around the different regions and the next opportunity for Europe and other, which Australia is in, will be in 2026.

With the election of a Labor Government to Federal Parliament in May 2022, Australia has increased its commitment to climate action. From being a laggard country it is now in the middle of the pack of developed nations.

At the opening plenary Australia, as chair of the Umbrella Group of Nations, supported the inclusion of the agenda item on financial measures to address Loss and Damage, a key item for developing countries.

In the five months since the election, the new Federal Government has started implementing Labor’s Powering Australia and Rewiring the nation policies. One of the new government’s first acts was to legislate the new 2030 climate target.

* Australia this year increased its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) from 26-28% emissions reduction by 2030 to 43% by 2030. 

* Set a target for its electricity grid of 82% renewables by 2030. 

* Australia also will now sign the Global methane pledge

* Is bidding with Pacific nations to host the 2026 UN climate change conference (#COP31)  (Guardian)

* But Australia still has over 100 coal and gas projects as proposed developments. 

Australia’s climate rating has improved, but is still Rated Insufficient

So where does Australia now stand on climate action? The Climate Action Tracker updated its assessment for Australia on 2 August. We moved from Highly Insufficient to Insufficient overall rating, but on domestic targets moved from Insufficient to Almost sufficient for a less than 2 degree World.

Here is an excerpt of the 2 August Climate Action Tracker assessment:

With its new NDC target Australia has improved its rating for its domestic efforts to “Almost sufficient”. Its overall rating is “Insufficient” when compared to its fair share of global action, as it needs to increase its contribution to climate finance. While this represents a significant improvement on the last target, for a 1.5°C compatible target, Australia needs to adopt 2030 domestic reductions of at least 57%, and full fair share reductions, taking into account climate finance commitments, of at least 60% below 2005 emission levels .

Australia has a net zero by 2050 target, but the actions set out in the Long-Term Strategy of the previous Government will not achieve this target, and fall short by a considerable margin. The Albanese government reiterated Australia’s commitment to net zero target by 2050 when it submitted its new NDC. Modelling commissioned by the Australian Labor Party shows high levels of emissions – of at least 60 MtCO2e – remaining in 2050, from facilities covered by the safeguard mechanism – largely in the industry sector. Other sectors of the economy will have to compensate and meet the abatement burden created by the industry sector.

The CAT rates Australia’s international public climate finance contributions as “Critically insufficient”. Australia’s climate finance contributions under the previous Government have been very low compared to its fair share. To improve its rating, Australia needs to stop supporting fossil fuel related activities overseas and increase the level of its international climate finance.

The Albanese government has an opportunity to transition from the “gas-led” approach of the previous government. However, its recent support for new gas projects and ongoing backing of fossil fuel projects indicates a discrepancy with its new NDC target. New gas and coal projects will significantly add to Australia’s mitigation burden and compromise its ability to meet the new NDC.

Or read the Climate Council report: G’Day COP27: Australia’s Global Climate Reset. This report outlines that:

  1. The year since the last United Nations climate talks has been one of continuous climate extremes with records tumbling from Lismore to Lahore. 
  2. As we enter the age of climate consequences, decisive action on climate change, and greater international collaboration, has never been more important. 
  3. The global race to net zero is redefining international relations, sparking a clean energy arms race between the US and China and accelerating Europe’s shift away from fossil fuels. 
  4. Restoring our international climate reputation, and righting past wrongs, is clearly in our national interests.

Figure 10: “Australia is now more closely aligned to its international peers on intended climate action. In September Australia legislated a new 2030 target to cut emissions by 43% (from 2005 levels). Most other developed nations have set higher targets.

Notes: The United Kingdom’s initial pledge to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 was made as part of the EU-wide pledge. The United States’ first pledge had a target year of 2025, so is not perfectly comparable to others shown. The US and Canada have made second pledges that are expressed as a range of ambition: 50-52% and 40-45% below 2005 levels respectively.”

Re-instating the Ambassador for Climate Change

Ms Kristin Tilley was most recently a First Assistant Secretary at the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, with over 10 years’ experience with international and domestic climate change policy and programs, according to the ministerial press release on 5 November. 

She replaces former Ambassador for the Environment Mr Jamie Isbister who lead Australia delegation to the UNFCCC since 2019.

Ms Tilley is Australia’s lead negotiator at COP27. 

Australia’s Foreign Minister will not be attending the conference, but said, “Ms Tilley will lead Australia’s international climate engagement, working with partners to deliver opportunities for green economy jobs.

“As well as playing our part to reduce emissions, Australia is also focused on helping our neighbours deal with the climate emergency, and elevating Pacific voices and priorities on the world stage.”

Ministers attending COP27

While Prime Minister Anthiony Albanese will not attend the conference, three ministers will attend giving ministerial representation for Australia. 

This includes Chris Bowen, Climate Change Minister and Jenny McAllister, Assistant Climate Change Minister.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, will represent the Prime Minister at COP27 from 7-9 November and focus on engaging with Australia’s Pacific partners.

Australia Pavillion

In 2021 Australia had it’s first pavillion at a UN climate change conference. However during the first week Santos had a prominent display. The pavillion was roundly criticised by Australian civil society representatives.

The pavillion will be an important diplomatic mechanism for outreach to Pacific leadership, with the Australian Government looking to engage very actively with Pacific leaders. 

Australia is also looking to promote first nation voices across COP and foreign policy and  to engage with Indigenous Peoples Platform. The artwork design of the pavillion will have an indigenous theme, with a events events at pavilion featuring first nation delegates.

Time will tell how much DFAT listened to the criticisms of the Australian pavillion from 2021 in Glasgow.

Tennant Reed, a policy wonk for the AI Group, tweets that “Meanwhile the Australian delegation offices, in a different spot, are currently sweltering – DFAT and DCCEEW peeps are gonna want to hang out anywhere else they can if that isn’t fixed. All the more reason to go to negotiations. ”  He adds that “The coffee machine is not yet functioning but the delegation promise it will be excellent, as will the Australian-roasted beans and Australian baristas.”

Initial Positions at Opening Plenary

Climate Action Network International tweeted that Australia, on behalf of Umbrella Group at the initial plenary, supported the agenda item on financial measures to address Loss and Damage. 

“Parties must follow through on keeping global warming to #1o5 as agreed in Glasgow. We welcome the agenda item on financial measures to address #LossAndDamage. A historic moment in this process.”

A Loss and Damage finance facility is a key ask at this conference by many of the developing nations that are being hit hard by climate induced extreme weather events.

Climate Ambition while escalating fossil fuel development

While Australia has increased it’s climate ambition, there are also over 100 fossil gas and coal projects presently at various stages of development approval. 

Projects of particular concern include

  • The Scarborough gas project in Western Australia
  • Beetaloo basin gas field in the Northern Territory
  • Barossa Gas project off the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory
  • Narrabri gas field in New South Wales.

There are a substantial number of new coal and gas projects in Queensland. In June, The Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) wrote to Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, formally requesting that she reconsider how these coal and gas projects had been assessed under federal environment law. Tanya Plibersek will reassess 18 major Queensland coal and gas project proposals following a legal application, reports the ABC and The Guardian. Some of the original approval decisions go back to 2011.

The Juice Media latest Honest Government Ad focuses on the new gas projects in Western Australia. Worth watching, but it is sweary with strong language is used.

Egypt: An atmosphere of suppression of human rights

In the run up to the conference there have been large concerns about the suppression of human rights and civil society in Egypt and their ability to freely attend the conference. 

Fears have also mounted that  the COP27 app could be used by Egypt to surveil regime’s critics. “Cybersecurity experts warn that official COP27 climate app requires access to a user’s location, photos and even emails” reports the Guardian.

In early October there was a powerful article by Naomi Klein on holding the UN Climate Conference COP27 in Egypt at Sharm El-Sheikh in an atmosphere of local intimidation, suppression and imprisonment of civil society activists, academics. 

She argues it is a greenwash for a repressive dictatorship. That here can be no climate justice without human rights and open civic space. A long read.  The Intercept: From Blah Blah Blah to Blood Blood Blood 

Also read the Human Rights Watch report on how Egypt has undermined environmental activism and the UN Human Rights (UNHR) news item  – Egypt: UN experts alarmed by restrictions on civil society ahead of climate summit.

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