In a sign Australia has come in from the cold at climate talks after years of being criticised as a laggard, Chris Bowen has been asked to take a leadership role in the final days of faltering negotiations at the UN summit in Egypt.
It came on a day in which Australia’s climate change minister was effusively praised by the US climate envoy, John Kerry, and signed up to a global alliance that aims to massively expand offshore wind energy.
But the Albanese government drew criticism for not including new funding or commitments in its national statement at the Cop27 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh and resisted calls to join a pledge to end public support for fossil fuel projects overseas.
With three days of scheduled time left at the talks, Bowen was asked to take over the struggling negotiations over how to fund climate financing for poor and vulnerable countries. He will co-facilitate that section of negotiations alongside the Indian climate change minister, Bhupender Yadav.
They will be responsible for getting delegates from nearly 200 countries to agree on text detailing how the world will raise vast sums to support the developing world to cut emissions and adapt to the climate crisis.
Observers have described negotiations over a potential Sharm agreement as slow and largely directionless. There are concerns some countries are pushing for changes that would unwind commitments made in a pact agreed at the last climate conference in Glasgow a year ago.
A leaked draft text on climate finance seen by the Guardian appeared to have dropped a reference to how quickly a long-promised goal of $US100bn of public and private climate finance a year should be reached. The Glasgow pact said it was expected by 2023.
The draft also went backwards in what it said about funding for climate adaptation measures. Where the Glasgow pact said the total should “at least double” by 2025, the new draft said countries should “consider doubling adaptation finance”.
Friederike Röder, from Global Citizen, said while negotiations were at an early stage ahead of a scheduled Friday finish the initial signs were “far from promising”. “When will countries actually take responsibility?” she said.
The fragile state of the talks led Bowen to rewrite Australia’s national statement, delivered on the main conference plenary floor, after an initial version had been released to media Monday night. The statement he delivered called out the World Bank and other multilateral development banks for not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis, as flagged in advance.
But the final version added a new section to say Australia remained committed the world aiming to keep global heating as close as possible to 1.5C of warming above pre-industrial levels, as was agreed in Glasgow. Kerry said late last week that a few countries had resisted mentioning the 1.5C target in the Cop27 text.
It also stressed that it was urgent that global leaders “accelerate the renewables transformation this decade”.
“The costs of letting these priorities fall to the wayside are too great,” he said.
The minister later said the speech was updated “to reflect a strong commitment to what was agreed at Glasgow, because we need to. These are not givens, it is not locked in.”
Bowen’s invitation to play a leadership role followed Kerry praising his Australian counterpart as he introduced him before a panel discussion in the US pavilion. The US special envoy for climate pointedly contrasted Bowen’s performance with that of the Morrison ex-government.
“He is doing an incredible job of demonstrating the difference an election makes,” Kerry said of Bowen. “The government of Australia has stepped up in remarkable ways and we’re pleased with that.”
But Australia’s national statement was criticised by some climate and environment groups for not including new funding or policy commitments.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific said it was a missed opportunity to back up the government’s stated goal of supporting its Pacific neighbours on “the existential issue of loss and damage”.
Shiva Gounden, a Greenpeace Pacific adviser, said Australia was all talk but had delivered little action.
“The Australian government certainly sounds better than the previous government on climate, but a lack of action means they are failing to meet the promise of their talking points,” he said. “Simply being better than their Scott Morrison-led predecessors is not good enough.”
Nicki Hutley, an economist with the Climate Council, said Bowen had side-stepped the need to phase out Australia’s fossil fuels and increase its commitment to global climate finance.
Bowen’s main announcement on Tuesday was that Australia would join a global offshore wind alliance that has a goal of building at least 380 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity being installed by 2030.
The alliance aims to help drive the expansion of the industry by sharing information and plans to cut costs and accelerate construction of giant offshore turbines. Bowen said Australia had 60,000km of coast, but until recently offshore wind energy developments were illegal. “We see this as being a very, very important part of our energy mix” he said.
Australia faces challenger for Cop31
Also on Tuesday, Turkey announced it would challenge Australia and the Pacific for the rights to host the 2026 climate summit.
Australia and the Pacific are the frontrunners to host what will be known as Cop31 after possible contenders Germany and Switzerland opted not to bid.
Responding to Turkey’s announcement, Bowen said Australia was “very encouraged by the strong indications of support” it had received to co-host Cop31. He said the bid “would rightly focus the world’s attention on climate impacts in the Pacific and showcase Australia’s credibility as a future renewable energy superpower”.