Australia must assert itself as a good global citizen and advance a rational, fair climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
The Government finds itself at an important fork in the road regarding its role in international diplomacy, particularly after the failure of the recent climate change negotiations in Doha to make progress on the future climate agreement.
The talks came just one month after Australia was successful in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council which showcased our national vision to become a constructive leader and a good global citizen.
Australia, just like the rest of the world, has a huge task lying ahead beyond Doha.
But it is unlikely any future agreement will develop a strong, prescriptive rules-based climate regime like the Kyoto Protocol.
Ultimately, Kyoto has fallen out of favour as countries have became frustrated that their diverse domestic policy needs were been driven by a strict multilateral agreement.
Additionally, the Kyoto Protocol made developed countries commit to emissions reductions and allowed developing countries to go about taking action at their own pace causing frustration among major emitters.
While fair in theory (as developed countries were – and still are – the most responsible for causing climate change), this imbalance caused certain wealthy nations which are required to cut back on emissions, such as the US, to reject the original agreement or its second phase beginning this year. Moreover, it allowed for rapid emissions growth in some developing countries.
To strike a suitable balance this time around, Australia should look to promote an agreement which obliges all countries to participate in a stringent pledge and review system, based on a new arrangement of differentiating countries’ responsibilities. This would generate trust and satisfaction between countries, yet still allow for flexibility in domestic policy so as to not deter states which do not want their autonomy to be stripped from them.
Such a deal would also lay an important groundwork that could be built upon by negotiators in the years to come.
For Australia to ensure any future agreement will be effective, it is also vital to advance an agreement which satisfies the interests of major emitters such as China, the US, EU and India, and generates widespread participation among other countries.
China and India have never been obligated to commit to emissions reductions, as developing countries with little historical responsibility for climate change. But today they are major economies and leading emitters such as the United States are not likely to sign on to any deal without them.
In fact, as I mentioned earlier, there are many countries which were classified as ‘developing’ when the UNFCCC treaty was signed in 1990 who have since experienced massive growth rates in their emissions and now emit more than many OECD nations; and are expected to continue their huge emissions growth rates into the future.
Collectively, Non-Annex 1 Parties (consisting of developing and transitioning nations as of 1990) increased their share of global emissions from 33.1 per cent in 1990 to 48.3 per cent in 2006. By 2034 their historical emissions are expected to be on par with the developed world.
But the brunt of this vast growth has come from a select amount of transition economies.
There are other developing countries who must continue to focus on sustainable development in order to provide basic necessities for their citizens and who as a result cannot afford to worry about the costs of mitigating the impact of global warming.
Therefore Australia must progress an agreement which differentiates between the commitments of transitioned economies, which are seeing massive growth rates as part of their successful development, and underdeveloped nations who need to put more focus on achieving sustainable development.
However, it must also balance this with the need to promote an equitable solution which does not create injustices and allow for climate impunity – where countries, like Australia, go without indemnification for their historical and per capita emissions.
Australia should therefore look at the possibility of reviewing the developed-developing Annex groupings which have been the basis for differentiating between the responsibilities of different countries.
The review should bring the Annexes in line with contemporary political and economic realities to determine who is financially able to commit to emissions reductions, whilst continuing to incorporate the principles of historical and per capita responsibilities for climate change mitigation.
The new Annexes will reflect a hierarchy of emissions accountability, with developed nations who are both historically and contemporarily responsible for climate change and best able to pay for reductions (such as OECD nations) at the top.
Middle income and transitioned economies, like China and India, will be heavily responsible in the future unless they make commitments to curb their massive emissions growth so they should be placed in the middle
Finally, the least developed nations, like our neighbouring islands in the Pacific, which are the least liable for global warming, should be put at the bottom.
Nations’ pledges must then be critiqued based on their position in this hierarchy and what is expected of them accordingly.
Ultimately, an effective agreement is by necessity a fair one, as all countries need to act appropriately for the benefit of one another.
But Australia still needs to act as the voice for the voiceless in the negotiations.
If it does not, it will fail to back up all its talk of being a strong global leader.
For more on the future agreement, check out my piece for On Line Opinion.