China plays blocker; delegates note an Aussie flip

At the climate summit in Lima, China is resisting calls for details to be attached to pre-Paris targets while Australia's change on the Green Climate Fund has highlighted the power of political 'pincers'.

LIMA: Ministers continue to arrive at the Lima climate summit promoting impromptu press conferences and high level speeches. They are also engaging in bilateral meetings between each other to test key political issues. Delegates remain in closed rooms doing line-by-line negotiations of the draft outcomes from this meeting.

The negotiations are poised, and some clear direction from the Peruvian presidency on the next steps to finalise the outcomes from Lima is likely over the next 12 hours.

A key sticking point remains on how transparent targets will be when they are announced next year. Transparency is important to build trust and to allow a robust assessment by the international community of how we are tracking towards limiting warming to the less than 2 degrees goal.

Many countries, including Australia, want to ensure there is clear upfront information on national targets. This is being resisted by some large emerging economies like China. The US, EU, New Zealand, some small island states and parts of Latin America also want a process to review targets internationally before Paris. Again, this is being resisted by China and it is not clear what the US and others can give China to get this over the line.

Green Climate Fund announcement

The international response to the Foreign Minister’s announcement on the Green Climate Fund at the meeting has been twofold.

The first response is best summed up by Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute think tank who said, “It is a pleasant, welcome surprise.” (The Climate Institute’s response is here.) Others have privately called it a “miracle” but this enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that this money is coming from the existing, already depleted aid budget when it should be additional to an increased aid budget (the fact that it is through aid program is not an issue, most countries channel their climate finance through overseas development assistance, it is the additionality that is core to credibility)

There is little doubt that a significant part of this announcement is driven by an attempt to shift Australia out of the diplomatic trenches and put it in a more credible position internationally. It is difficult to defend your own interests, regardless of how you define them, if you have your head down in the mud trying to dodge diplomatic bullets.

The other response is in some respects more interesting. Observers note that the announcement by Australia demonstrates that the pincer of international and domestic pressure can create cracks in what has been a seemingly intractable climate change position from Australia. Countries will be quietly assessing how to create similar dynamics when Australia announces its post-2020 emission target next year.

This leads to the second part of the announcement by the government – the establishment of a Prime Ministerial taskforce to make recommendations on Australia’s post-2020 targets by mid next year. Details are scant and some have commented that this is occurring under the guidance of the Prime Minister. The latter is appropriate, but the lack of details around how this process will occur is troubling.

In particular, there is no reference to scientific inputs into this process and whether it will examine targets that are consistent with the agreed global objective of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels (1880s). This is in contrast to the other assessment of post-2020 targets being undertaken by the Climate Change Authority which is to report by June 2015. This assessment is to consider not only the actions of other countries but also includes references to the undertakings we have made internationally – like contributed to the agreed global goal – and the ultimate objective of the Climate Convention. The latter requires explicit consideration of carbon budgets, or absolute emissions limits to 2050, consistent with avoiding 2 degrees.

Erwin Jackson is deputy chief executive of The Climate Institute.