How Australia was blinded by the Pacific bloc

1.5 degree drive

You need to know a little climate policy to understand the flexibility.

The Paris Agreement today obliges each nation to do its utmost to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with keeping global warming below 2 degrees and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible.

Today, the lower target, 1.5 degrees, has become the focus of the world’s discussion.

But up until the Paris climate talks in 2015, 1.5 degrees was hardly even a consideration, even though climate scientists agreed that this was the point where we had a better chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic climate points.

The target exists only in the Paris Agreement because of a diplomatic ambush set by one of the world’s smallest nations – the Marshall Islands, with about 60,000 inhabitants.

That was then: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hugs the then Minister of the Marshall Islands Tony de Brum at the climate summit in Paris.

That was then: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hugs the then Minister of the Marshall Islands Tony de Brum at the climate summit in Paris.Credit:Andrew McLeish

Then Marshallese Foreign Minister Tony deBrum acknowledged that even if 2 degrees warming could be tolerated by other parts of the world, it would wipe out many Pacific communities and nations.

Under the slogan “1.5 to stay alive”, deBrum began to gather support for an international coalition that would later become known as the High Ambition Coalition (HAC).

When the Paris negotiations began, no one outside the group knew of its existence, but deBrum had already managed to secure support, first from islands in the Pacific and then other small island countries in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Some African nations later came on board. The EU also backed the grouping, and when negotiations began to bite, the group managed to pull the United States on board.

Finally, more than a week into the Paris negotiations, HAC broke “coverage” that Dr. Wesley Morgan, a researcher at the Climate Council and a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, put it in a recent essay in the Australian journal Foreign Affairs.

The moment was dramatic. DeBrum approached the last session of the Paris negotiations, flanked by the Spanish politician who served as European Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete and US climate negotiator Todd Stern. The three had palm leaves woven into their lapels to symbolize their common purpose. The Marshallese statesman also had votes from 90 nations in his pocket.

World leaders, diplomats, and employees suddenly realized they had made a mistake.

Australia, the big brother of the Pacific, which used to boast of beating over its diplomatic weight, did not even know the bloc existed before this moment.

“We could not have gotten a Paris deal without the incredible efforts and hard work of the island nations,” then-US President Barack Obama said the following year about deBrums and the group he correlated.

Australia’s then Foreign Secretary Julie Bishop announced that we too would join the HAC. The problem was that Australia lacked entry requirements.

“We are delighted to hear of Australia’s interest and look forward to hearing what more they can do to join our coalition,” said deBrum.

$ 100 billion compromise

So when Bainimarama made the demands of the Pacific Island Forum this week, Bainimarama did not quite speak like a river in a sea of ​​whales. And the $ 100 billion in climate finance he demanded was not a number picked from the sky.

He referred to a commitment by wealthy nations in previous climate negotiations, which began to take shape in 2009 and which has never been fulfilled.

The agreement is based on a fairly obvious inequality.

Industrialized nations have been dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, and have made themselves rich by doing so. Poorer nations are only going through that process now.

The urgency of the climate crisis dictates that all nations must quickly reduce their emissions, including – in particular – new economies that are now dependent on heavy, dirty industry.

Recognizing that the greener planet meant that poorer countries could not burn carbon, as the richer world had, a payment was accepted during UN negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009.

Rich nations would “mobilize” $ 100 billion in funding each year by 2020 to help developing countries go green faster.

A so-called green climate fund would make the effort.

The problem was, says one of Australia’s former chief climate diplomats, Professor Howard Bamsey, the language built into the agreement to ensure it won support was loose enough to be almost meaningless.

Mobilize, he says, “is one of those UN verbs, so you have to analyze it very carefully”.

It was never made clear, he explains, if “mobilizing funding” meant providing subsidies or facilitating cheap loans or creating policies to help withdraw private money.

Whatever that means, no matter how hard you “analyze” it, you never get close to $ 100 billion a year on a ledger.

It is difficult today to figure out how much money was ever secured. After some counts, the most accomplished funding in a year was $ 20 billion. In a recent OECD analysis, it is closer to $ 80 billion, if one counts funding channeled directly between nations rather than through the Green Climate Fund.

But Bamsey says the purpose of the fund was more than a practical climate response. It served to bind nations in joint action, and its lack of date is a blow to the global climate agreement.

Australia once placed itself at the heart of the project and recognized it as an effective way to channel global support to the Pacific. Bamsey was himself appointed CEO of the JRC in 2016.

In an early round of funding, Australia pledged $ 200 million for the effort, but in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a radio interview with Alan Jones, starting with a discussion of their mutual support for an advertisement for horse racing to be projected on the sails of the Opera House. which Australia would no longer contribute to “the great climate fund”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Fiji's Frank Bainimarama during his official visit to the Parliament House in Canberra in 2019.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama during his official visit to the Parliament House in Canberra in 2019. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Later in the Senate, hearings foreign officials estimate that this comment constituted the announcement that Australia would no longer be part of the Green Climate Fund even if the country’s foreign aid to the Pacific continued.

So what then?

DeBrum died in 2017. He might be surprised to see how much the world has changed since then.

Carbon emissions are still rising rather than down, but there is now agreement that clean energy is cheaper than dirty alternatives. About 70 percent of the global economy exists in jurisdictions committed to reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050.

Both the United States, the world’s largest historical greenhouse gas emitter, and China, the current one, support rapid decarbonization.

We do not know if another bloc like the High Ambition Coalition will be quietly built as Glasgow approaches, or what HAC itself has planned.

We know that Italy has become a crossroads for international officials this month as it prepares to hold G20 negotiations and co – host the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November.

And due to a Twitter post by Grenada’s Environment Minister Simon Stiell, we know that in Milan this week, US President Joe Biden’s infamous tireless climate envoy John Kerry had time to meet with another dealer, Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege.

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