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Dispatch from the climate front

By Heather Bruer - posted Thursday, 1 December 2011

We did it. Australia has legislated a price on carbon pollution. But with the United Nations climate talks already underway in Durban, South Africa, now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

The price on carbon is a historic achievement in Australian politics. The mechanism will reduce our pollution and begin the transition towards a clean energy economy. Australia's actions will also inject much needed momentum towards a global deal to tackle climate change.

But that deal is still a long way off, and the science says that time is running out.


The International Energy Agency this month warned the world only has 5 years to create a system that will keep our global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees. If we pass that threshold, we will no longer be able to prevent the 'weather on steroids' the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is predicting, such as extreme heatwaves, tropical cyclones and droughts.

While a global deal in Durban is unlikely, substantive progress can still be made, a point proved last year in Cancun.

The Cancun Agreements established for the first time that countries should limit warming to 2 degrees. They also captured the mitigation pledges of countries that make up 80% of the world greenhouse pollution, including the US and China.

Outside the UN, the last 2 years have seen close to 100 countries announce significant domestic climate change policies. And global investment in clean energy such as wind and solar was greater than investment in new fossil fuel capacity in the electricity sector over the same period.

These developments mark the transition from a 'treaty before action' to an 'action and agreement' approach. That is because countries like Australia are beginning to realise that the decoupling of prosperity from pollution will be fundamental in maintaining international competitiveness, even before the perfect agreement is finalised.

But the future of one important agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, will be a key measure of success in Durban.


Kyoto's first commitment period expires in 2012 and one of the objectives in Durban will be to secure a second period. The treaty is enormously significant because it is the first and only international legally binding treaty to reduce global emissions.

Kyoto covers 37 developed countries responsible for the bulk of historical emissions. This makes the treaty an emotional priority for developing countries and other countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The good news is, Australia can now sign onto and finalise new emissions reductions targets under the second commitment period. We can finally move away from our embarrassing 5% reduction target on 2000 levels by 2020 and agree to 15% cuts, now the domestic policy framework has largely been met.

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Heather Bruer is currently in Durban for the UN climate talks.

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About the Author

Heather Bruer is an Economics student at the University of Adelaide. She is currently the International Co-director at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

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