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More Cracks In The Paris Climate Agreement

Graham Lloyd, The Australian

And as with Copenhagen, the Paris Agreement remains far from being a done deal.

Winter is coming to Poland, where temperatures dip below zero, but the coal-hungry Euro­pean centre has become the last hope to pull progress on the Paris Agreement from the deep freeze.

It’s not just in Australia that tempers have been flaring over the future of the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.

An emergency meeting in Bangkok ended on September 9 in stalemate as longstanding divisions blocked progress on developing a rule book for how the Paris Agreement will operate.

Money, power and trust sit at the heart of the dispute, which will only intensify as governments prepare for the December 3 Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland.

Environment groups have blamed the US and Australia for frustrating negotiations on how a $US100 billion ($140bn) a year fund for developing nations will be managed.

Behind the scenes, a group of countries led by China has been working to widen the gap on how rules should apply differently to the developed and developing world.

This is familiar territory for anyone who has watched the two decades of UN climate change ­diplomacy.

Developing nations blame the developed world for causing the problem of climate change and ­insist on protecting their right to develop.

Simple mathematics shows ­developed nations cannot solve the problem alone.

The $US100bn fund has been the glue that brought developed and developing nations into a single compact. But the devil, as ­always, is in the detail.

It is usual in global climate change negotiations for talks to go down to the wire.

But the 2009 meeting in ­Copenhagen has shown that success cannot always be guaranteed.

A new level of uncertainty has been added to negotiations by US President Donald Trump’s decision to signal his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

A formal departure cannot be announced until November next year and would not take effect until November 2020. In the meantime, the US ­remains active in negotiations.

Without the US, ambitions to raise $US100bn a year from 2020 will be exponentially more difficult.

Uncertainty has allowed the pathway for the Paris Agreement to begin to unravel on several fronts.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016, after it was adopted to a fanfare of consensus on December 12, 2015.

The deal is yet to be operational because agreement must still be reached on the rule book on how it will operate. In its present form, despite all the emotion vested in it, the Paris deal is merely an agreement of ­intent.

Even if it becomes operational, it will be largely voluntary, relying on international peer pressure to keep participants in check. Countries will be obliged to ­report ambitions to keep future global tem­p­erature rises below 2C but there is no legal mechanism to ­enforce their actions.

Final details are supposed to be agreed by the end of this year.

But after Bangkok, despite some encouraging official pronouncements, that agreement seems as far away as ever.

Observers have said publicly that the Paris deal is on the brink of collapse.

India’s Economic Times laments “the world is now setting the new norms of not keeping the promises made on global ­co-operation”.

These developments provide context to debate about the future of the Paris Agreement in Australia, where the focus has been on what level targets should be set to cut future carbon dioxide emissions.

Internationally, despite its relatively small contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions, Australia is still playing a very active role in negotiations.

In resisting calls from within his party to abandon the Paris deal ­because of the cost to electricity prices of a renewable energy transition, Scott Morrison has remained fixed on diplomacy.

“I have to consider not just the issue here,” the new Prime Minister told Sydney 2GB radio host Alan Jones.

“In the Pacific, this is an issue which is incredibly important. This issue dominates their thinking and agenda. Now the Pacific is one of the most strategic areas of influence in our world today.”

In short, backsliding on the Paris Agreement could have big ­regional consequences and frustrate negotiations for free trade with the EU.

Despite the criticism levelled at Australia during the Bangkok talks, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says we are committed to the Paris Agreement process.

“Australia wants to secure comprehensive and effective ­implementing guidance for the Paris Agreement, including robust emissions accounting and transparency rules,” the DFAT spokesman says.

“Australia is aiming for the Paris Agreement implementation guidance to be finalised at COP24 in December (Poland) this year and supports effective assistance, including financial assistance to be provided to developing countries.”

Australia has invested more than half of a commitment made in 2015 to spend $1bn across five years (2015-16 to 2019-20) to support developing countries to build climate resilience and reduce emissions.

This includes $300 million across four years for climate action in the Pacific.

Australia’s assistance is grant-based, based on partner country requests, balanced across mitigation and adaptation, and ­focused on small island developing states and less developed countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

The money is dispersed through multilateral, global, ­regional and country-level mechanisms through the Australian aid program managed by DFAT.

The truth, however, is that global talks on finance have stalled over whether loans and existing foreign aid should be counted as part of the proposed $US100bn a year fund from 2020.

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