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Opinion Piece: From Madrid to Balmoral


Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and the Bushfires


Author, Mark Prendergast (HACSU Member)

Australia’s voluntary greenhouse gas emission reductions targets, set at an earlier stage of the international debate on responding to climate change, were weak and unambitious. Basically, we under-promised and over-delivered. The need for real reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the face of the climate change emergency has become much clearer in the ensuing years.

One of the crucial aims of last December’s annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid (COP25) was to establish the rules for advancing voluntary cooperation between nations that will enable mechanisms to deliver more ambitious real benefits to the environment (Article 6 of the Paris Agreement). The Morrison government’s negotiating position at this meeting was that our low-ball “credits” from the earlier stage of the international debate on responding to climate change could be carried over into the more recent Paris Agreement that Australia is a party to. While the text of the Agreement itself does not legitimise such carry-overs (doing so will stymie measures to mitigate overall global emissions of greenhouse gases) nonetheless, the Morrison government’s negotiating position was one of the range of possible positions to adopt at COP25: what’s otherwise known as being inside the tent pissing out.

This issue was very important because advancing cooperation between nations on establishing mechanisms to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions has to be founded on robust accounting processes. For example, traded emission reductions ought not be counted twice towards, both, the emission reduction targets of the host nation, and, the nation purchasing the emission reduction credit. Likewise, the results of inaction (for example, reduced greenhouse gas emissions in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union because of downturns in industrial production) shouldn’t count. In the end, no agreement was reached on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement at COP25, and any decision on how mechanisms to deal with emissions reductions globally are to operate was deferred for another twelve months.

Frustrating any effort to establish mechanisms that ruled out carrying over credits from Australia’s previous unambitious emissions reduction targets was a successful outcome for the Morrison government at COP25. This is what real action on climate in defence of Australia’s national interests looks like to the Morrison government.

The head of Australia’s delegation to COP25 was the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Mr Taylor is the Member for Hume, in New South Wales. Shortly after Mr Taylor returned from COP25, in the village of Balmoral in Hume Division, eighteen homes were destroyed by bushfire. Even more devastating, two volunteer fire fighters, Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, died near Buxton in Hume Division, when their truck rolled after being hit by a falling tree. After criticism from some members of the Balmoral community about the lack of presence of their local politicians in the immediate aftermath of the fire, Mr Taylor’s response was swift and energetic, posting on his Facebook page that:

Whilst there has been so much loss at Balmoral, and that is tragic, the bigger story is so much more has been saved by the heroic efforts of our firefighters.

The community has come together, donations are flooding in and people are looking after each other. Balmoral is hurting but it will be fine. We will all make sure of it.

One month after it started, this fire is listed as still out of control, having burnt through more than 282,000 hectares. People have experienced many other losses across Australia. “Balmoral is hurting but it will be fine.” After the fire season ends, unabated denialism in all its forms will follow. There is a bigger story. However, that is not the one that Angus Taylor wants to enter.