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Implementing Commitments of the Paris Climate Conference

Implementing Commitments of the Paris Climate Conference: More Consensus-Building as the Progressive Challenge for 2016 writes Denis Bright.

With existing Australian emission control strategies insufficient to fulfil the modest commitments to the Paris Climate Talks (COP21), a new consensus-building around the issue of climate change should become the progressive agenda for 2016.

Polling from the Lowy Institute shows growing community support for more decisive action on climate change.

New Safeguard Mechanisms will be directed against the 140 worst carbon emitters from July 2016 under the supervision of the Clean Energy Regulator.

The modest achievement of the Emission Reduction Fund in 2015 can be acknowledged across the political divide.

The Emissions Reduction Fund in 2015 was highly attractive to rural and forestry sectors and land care after mining operations.

Implementation of the Safeguard Mechanisms to control the excesses of Australia’s 140 largest polluters from July 2016 will pose difficult challenges for the LNP with its traditional market orientation.

The challenges for Australia’s COP21 commitments are evident in the mismatch between actual attainment in emission control during 2015 and the broader range of carbon emissions which are not being covered by the existing abatement auctions.

This invites a return to some of the environmental problem-solving from the Rudd-Gillard Years which Malcolm Turnbull entertained as Opposition Leader.

1 The Spectre of a return to the Environmental-Economic Divide

In his address to the National Press Club on 25 November 2015, Environmental Minister Greg Hunt showed a willingness to return to the ideological divide between commitment to the environment and responsible economic management.

Australian Emission Levels 2014

Australian Emission Levels 2014

The address included a serve against Bill Shorten for Labor’s more ambitious emission control targets which promised a 45% reduction in emission levels by 2030.

The serve came with a warning that penalties against emission controls on both electricity generation and industry would contribute to rising delivery costs and power bills.

COP21 has shifted the debate over global warming in Australia to the political centre around the precise commitment needed to move from traditional LNP market priorities towards sustainable social market goals.

The policy transition to incorporate the Safeguard Mechanisms after July 2016 might be a difficult one for the LNP. Labor can talk up its environmental credentials during this new transitional phase in environmental public policy.

2 Towards a progressive environmental consensus

It is in the national interest for Labor to seek greater bipartisanship with the LNP in implementing the commitments made at COP21. These commitments are an affront to a minority of conservative LNP representatives. Resistance to the forthcoming Safeguard Mechanisms can be expected from some sections of the business community who did not participate in the Emissions Reductions Fund.

Projected Changes in Australian Carbon Emissions 2014-2020

Projected Changes in Australian Carbon Emissions 2014-2020

Resistance from the business community to proactive commitments by government also extends to creative accounting by major corporations to minimise legitimate taxation payments.

Most of the major polluters, particularly in the electricity generation sector, feature prominently in the ATO data.

The long-term trends in Australia’s emission levels show that there is an emerging bipartisan challenge for a developed economy with a very heavy environmental imprint that is amongst the highest in the world for a non-OPEC country.

The Department of the Environment has acknowledged the specifics of this environmental imprint for the period 2014-2020.

Bipartisan alternatives to any return to the carbon tax are available through taxation incentives, direct action and a continuation of market based strategies which underlie the Emissions Reduction Fund in an existing or modified form.

3 Linking commitments at COP21 to existing Innovation Agendas

After the embarrassing cut-backs in the first two LNP budgets of 2014 and 2015, the LNP’s own National Innovation and Science Agenda Report still relies on data from 2011 to communicate the level of government investment in research and development.

Projected Australian Government Expenditure in Research and Development 2015

Projected Australian Government Expenditure in Research and Development 2015

Government investment in research and development has actually decreased since the change of government in 2013. Projected government investment in research and development is 0.59 per cent of GDP in 2015 or $9.7 billion.

Consensus-building by the Labor Opposition can guarantee support for environmental commitments to become a more significant part of National Innovations for 2016-17.

A battery of market based, taxation and direct initiatives is available to reduce the impact of inefficient electricity generation, urban sprawl around freeway suburbs without adequate public transport and avoidable emissions from transport and resource production sectors.

Commitment to the environment can also be talked up at a household level with new initiatives in energy saving and a more thoughtful food intake to contain the obesity epidemic in Australia and most other developed countries.

d5 A greater intake of vegetarian food is an important way of lowering the environmental impact of modern lifestyles in the new suburbia.

The US statistics offer a rough guide to various food-print options from a country where personal levels of environmental impact are comparable to Australia.

The narrow definition of food-print vastly underestimates actual total levels of environmental impact from wider consumption, energy use and the other parameters of market-oriented consumer societies which generate almost 20 tonnes of emissions in both Australia and the US as measured by UN Millennium Development data.

4 Forthcoming Safeguard Mechanisms Operating from July 2016

Fortunately, independent agencies like the Clean Energy Authority (CCA) and the Clean Energy Regulator (CEG) are still authorised to offer independent advice on the implementation of Australia’s pledges at COP21.

The Climate Change Authority advised the LNP’s Minister for the Environment to take higher emission targets to COP21 and is largely in agreement with Bill Shorten’s commitments on emission reductions to 2030.

d6 This change from market priorities towards a sustainable social market approach needs to be steered by both sides of politics. If the bipartisan debate fails, expect a regression to the old issue of electricity prices from ageing coal fired installations to be a key focus at the 2016 elections.

The demarcation between emissions from electricity generation and other major sources of emission is highly appropriate to ensure that special consideration can be given to the impact of electricity charges for households to protect low income families from financial hardship during the implementation of the Safeguard Mechanisms from July 2016.

Whilst public opinion is highly supportive of commitment to stronger action on climate change, this current mood needs to be supported by media campaigns to keep wider community onside when adjustments to established industries interact with prevailing consumer instincts.

COP21 has potentially moved the public debate on climate change in a positive direction and invites a paradigm change towards a consensus-building approach that upholds the wisdom of the sustainable social market over the traditional market approach.


denis-bright-150x150 Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). He has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing progressive public policies that are compatible with commitments to a social market model within contemporary globalization.



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  1. Chris

    “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”
    — U.S. President Lyndon Johnson to Congress

    This is a really interesting lecture “Erik M. Conway – Merchants of Doubt: How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War”

    Lots of things are making all of the ‘solutions’ look like too little too late.

    ‘the greatest and widest—ranging market failure ever seen’ (Stern, 2006)

  2. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Apologies for this error:

    “The Clean Energy Authority advised the LNP’s Minister for the Environment to take higher emission targets to COP21 and is largely in agreement with Bill Shorten’s commitments on emission reductions to 2030.”

    Clean Energy Authority should read Climate Change Authority (CCA):

    “The CCA advised the LNP’s Minister for the Environment to take higher emission targets to COP21 and is largely in agreement with Bill Shorten’s commitments on emission reductions to 2030.”

  3. Chris

    As a kid I was greatly influenced by the ABC TV show Earthwatch
    Along with this series of books
    and probably some news reports I have known of ‘the greenhouse effect’ ie global warming for most of my life. It frustrates the hell out of me that it is still ignored by many people….

    This is one of the later episodes after it had gone downhill somewhat (in an 80s kind of way)

  4. Michael Taylor

    Thanks Denis. I missed it. Shall fix in the morning.

  5. Roswell

    Don’t worry. I’ve fixed it for you.

  6. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks Chris: The apathy about climate change is still appalling and the commitments supported by the Lowy Polling are probably soft.

    Look at the web sites of the big electricity generators and they all claim similar environmental commitments while still being on the ATO hit list.

    Australia is now a very conservative electorate which is encouraged by elites to consume more and more.

    The electorate is still very fractured with non-event senators getting over the line through the strategic exchange of preferences.

    Hopefully, the Labor Movement can renew itself around the COP21 commitments and push the government towards honest implementation.

    Greg Hunt has a good TV presentation but his address to the National Press Club showed his true ideological colours:

    All the big polluters have a similar style on their web sites.

  7. Are we going places yet?

    Consensus-building is a good start from the Age of the Big Polluters: Market focused politics by leaders who are puppets of big business lobbies with a positive message about their environmental credentials and their concerns for household power bills.

  8. Sen Nearly Ile

    great read denis.(food for thought).
    We have a pre-cyclone clear out where items are put on the verge to be collected by the council (or anyone trolling by) the number of unbroken or easily repaired goods highlight the short-term use and throw away society we have.
    Assuming all rich countries are our equal, enormous energy is wasted by planned obsolescence.
    ps eating our emblems and camels as a positive alternative to veganism?

  9. Kyran

    Surely it can now be accepted that the cost of action will be miniscule when compared with the cost of inaction.
    What causes great confusion to me is the combination of problems all put under the ‘climate change’ umbrella. We have ‘dirty’ power companies that provide ‘cheaper’ energy because their plant and equipment is so old, it no longer factors in their cost scenarios. I believe the term used is ‘stranded assets’.
    Add to that the financial scam depicted by Jess Hill in the Background Briefing report titled “The Big disconnect”, which clearly demonstrated the power companies manipulation of power prices whilst using the removal of ‘carbon pricing’ as an excuse for their manipulations.
    Add to that the reports being gradually released on the Hazelwood fires, the incompetence (at best) of the company that owned it and the government that was meant to be regulating it. These reports have recently become focussed on the costs of reparation (environmental and ongoing medical complaints) and who is going to pay. Not surprisingly, the company can’t afford it and the taxpayer will likely cop the bill. There have been some suggestions of all companies being required to pay a ‘bond’ prior to commencing activities that may have an environmental impact, for which there appears to be little political appetite.
    Add to that the financial trickery that these companies call tax minimisation. This essentially means that they don’t pay taxes so are not even a contributor to the taxpayer funded reparation for their misdeeds.
    Seems to me your article highlights the aspiration of COP21 and the unwilling incompetence of our current government.
    As with so many subjects these days, the bottom line is accountability. These companies are not accountable and our leaders have little appetite to take them on. Thank you, Mr Bright. Take care

  10. brisbanej

    The electorate is resistant to brave new ideas and hesitates about implementing COP21 commitments. Let’s hope that some traction can be offered through consensus-building to ease the concerns of conservative sections of the LNP. Most electricity generation is now in the hands of the private sector. Profit making through the use of obsolete equipment is the commercial goal until worn out installations are taken over by multinational networks who will make consumers pay for new technology in their power bills.

  11. JohnB

    The LNP have twisted priorities.
    They rush into committing $17Bn on a polluting (Vic, East West) motorway, without waiting for a cost benefit survey, they sign a (coincidentally $17Bn) contract for supply of problem plagued unproven F35 fighter/bomber planes, even without evidence of any immediate threat to Australia’s security, yet we take no substantive action to combat the very real and pressing human existential threat of AGW.

    What if we were spend $17Bn on renewable energy infrastructure instead of F35’s or expanding polluting urban traffic?
    Makes more sense – we will use it for decades, and science says we must urgently stop burning fossil fuels.

    I have made some rough calculations below based on currently available data on the impact of allocating $17Bn to renewable energy – specifically wind generation. (Wind generation was chosen because it has the capacity to supply energy 24 hrs/day.)

    The cost of wind energy is approximately $90 per Mwh – according to article published Jun 23 2015 in ‘The Conversation’ by Dylan McConnell, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne.

    The math…. $17 * 10^9 / $90 = 188 *10^6 Mwh = (approx) 189 TWh of wind power.

    2013 -2014 Australian Energy Statistics
    Total Australian Electricity generation = 248 TWh = 893 PJ
    (Table 4.2)
    Electricity generated from fossil fuels = 211 TWh

    189 TWh ( 189,000 MWh) is almost sufficient capacity to replace all 211 Twh of fossil fuel electricity generating capacity in Australia.
    It is more than enough capacity to eliminate all fossil fuel use in supply of Australia’s normal daily electricity requirements – See Nemwatch for today’s power usage.

    It is do-able if only we had the will.
    I suggest Australia (and the world) needs clean energy much more than it needs expensive fighter jets and yet more disruptive ineffectual urban roadworks.

    Even though solar is roughly twice as expensive/ MWh, if the second $17Bn was spent on subsidising solar PV panel installations we could well achieve another 189TWh of daytime energy capacity installed on consumers homes – of great assistance to the increasing power bills of low income earners.

  12. Paul

    Thanks for the excellent article on such an important topic!

    “By the middle of this century we will trigger a runaway climate change – a process beyond our control. What do you do if you have that information? What do you do?” – Dr Steven Chu – Former US Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize Winner.

    Well, we have that information and we must act now. This is real. We can collectively effectively manage this incredible challenge if we work together.

    No matter your political view – we must lobby our leaders to stand together and tackle this issue.

    “Over the next 6 to 10 years, we have an urgent responsibility to decide how this world is going to be in the future” – Christina Figures, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    There is a lot that can be done even on an individual level – switch to solar or request green electricity from your provider, review the impact of your diet on the environment, reduce wastage of power.

    There are a lot of inspiring projects and progress being made in renewable technologies, which makes me confident that we have the ability to fix this but do we have the sense of urgency to make change now? This cannot wait!

  13. Miriam English

    JohnB, I agree with everything in your post, but I must disagree with one tiny thing which niggles at me. Sorry. You mentioned that solar power only operates during the day. This is a common misconception. While it is true of solar photovoltaic panels, it is not true of solar water heaters, solar space heaters, or solar farms that focus light with mirrors onto a tower which uses molten salt to run a steam-powered generator (I can’t remember if they have a special name). These solar-thermal electricity plants can operate 24 hours. I just needed to point that out. 🙂

    See my link earlier to a giant project to power Morocco with this kind of solar power:

    These kind of power plants are being increasingly built in the world’s sunniest places and would be perfectly suited to Australian conditions.

  14. JohnB

    Thanks for your reply Miriam.
    My post concentrated on wind and solar photovoltaic because with present technologies it is where one gets the most watts generated per dollar spent; to urgently replace fossil fuel powered electricity we need the maximum renewable electricity generation capacity that can be achieved in the shortest time.

    I did not set out to exclude other cost effective renewable energy sources like domestic/industrial solar hot water storage systems – my objective was to suggest a cost effective way to enable fast phase out of black coal, brown coal and gas from power generation in Australia.
    There are many other still developing technologies that certainly should be pursued and developed, however the present relative cost per KWh of these systems means they will be ancillary to onshore wind and solar PV.

    The solar energy concentrator/accumulator systems that you linked to are upwards of 4x more expensive than onshore wind turbines – and they have ongoing maintenance and technical issues during their service life; not to say they won’t improve as technology marches on.
    This publication sets out some cost comparisons – (Page 106 refers to parabolic/tower solar systems).

    I also did not include hydro – due geographical limitations on viable sites.

    This matter is urgent – we need the massive change and fast; and for that reason we must concentrate on already proven cost effective solutions.

  15. JohnB

    Some highly respected scientists are not optimistic about the outcomes of COP21.
    “…“If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse gas emissions to net zero within a few decades,” said said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It is in line with the scientific evidence we presented of what would have to be done to limit climate risks such as weather extremes and sea-level rise.”

    Right now, the main mechanism for reducing emissions are countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which leave us far short of the 1.5-degree goal that scientists and many vulnerable developing countries are pushing for. We need stronger, short-term action, said Steffen Kallbekken, research director at Cicero:

    “By the time the [INDCs] enter into force in 2020, we will have probably exhausted the entire carbon budget for the 1.5-degree target.”…

    Kevin Anderson for the Tyndal center for climate research was scathing:
    “[The current text] has no reference to levels of carbon peaks, no reference to fossil fuels in text, and the language of neutrality [assumes] we can suck massive amounts of CO2 in the future,” said Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Center for climate change research.

    “We should do research on geoengineering, but should only develop policy assuming that it does not work.” Geoengineering – which is still unproven – should not be assumed, and we don’t need it. The progress of renewables in countries like Germany, China and, increasingly, the United States is showing that strong action can reduce emissions. We just need to scale up – fast.

  16. JohnB

    Kevin Anderson on Paris Agreement: 13 Dec 2015

    “…However, whilst the 2°C and 1.5°C aspirations of the Paris Agreement are to be wholeheartedly welcomed, the thirty-one page edifice is premised on future technologies removing huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere many decades from today. If such highly speculative ‘negative emission technologies’ prove to be unsuccessful then the 1.5°C target is simply not achievable. Moreover, there is only a slim chance of maintaining the global temperature rise to below 2°C.

    In the absence of negative emissions, staying below the 2°C commitment demands levels of reductions in emissions far beyond anything discussed during the Paris negotiations.

    If we are serious about climate change, the 10% of the global population responsible for 50% of total emissions need to make deep and immediate cuts in their use of energy – and hence their carbon emissions. In addition, the huge and growing emissions from aviation and shipping, currently exempt from the Paris negotiations, need to be included for there to be any meaningful control over climate change in line with 2°C. …

    …However and despite this reliance [on negative emissions], there is no direct reference to such technologies throughout the thirty-one-page document….”

  17. Human Footprint Challenge

    I linked the manner in which this article links political action against the big polluters to personal commitment.

    Why is the Australian government so eager to tolerate big polluters, tax evaders and conspicuous consumption as our new national symbols?

    Why is there such tolerance of the obesity plague led by soft drink manufacturers and the fast food industries?

  18. Chris

    @John B Heh. I was just about to post this Kevin Anderson (Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) lecture….You should watch it Denis. It puts the requirements of avoiding dangerous climate change in an ‘interesting’ perspective.

    “Kevin Anderson – Delivering on 2°C: evolution or revolution? ”

  19. Chris

    Human Footprint Challenge…..Greed, crooks and hypocrites could be the only answer.

  20. MBA Student

    Insightful article that reminds us of Australia’s extraordinary environmental impact that is one of the highest in the non-OPEC world and close to the emission levels of the USA.

    For our neo-colonial leaders in Australia, rampant consumerism is a cornerstone of personal freedom.

    The latest emission figures from the Department of the Environment show environmental impact particularly from ageing privatized electricity generators are still increasing as is profit taking by these firms.

    Eventually the electricity units will become so run-down that they can be offered to an international firm to fulfill the emission control standards of a more responsible government: this take-over will bring more rewards to shareholders and more increases in electricity charges to cover the purchase of new technology.

  21. Mixed Messages

    It’s a long stretch of the imagination from Australia’s preaching at the Paris Climate Conference to support for coal exports from the Galilee Basin. How could this high cost mining project be justifiable at a time of falling coal prices?

  22. Sustainable Australia

    I like the idea of consensus-building on emission controls and environmental planning as it must ultimately push the LNP into accepting a different style approach to public policy to overcome the damage wrought by consumerism.

    Who really wants a society where every Australian leaves an environmental footprint that has generated 20 tonnes of emissions?

    As the article tells everyone, this is close to the US emission levels and one of the worst the worst in the Non-Opec world.

    Surely, this is unsustainable to the most die-hard LNP stalwart?

    If the LNP is really into Australian conservatism, it must want to protect environment and heritage?

  23. Patricia Ryan

    We must act now! Looking forward to a more sustainable future.

  24. Sustainable New Year

    A welcome article with an optimistic note for the New Year ahead.

    Until the political debate resumes in February, let’s work on sustainable lifestyles which have certain positive outcomes.

    As the article says, it’s the political elites who design the templates are enacted by the media, advertising and mainstream politics.

  25. Challenges Ahead

    Comparative data bases available support this interpretation of Australia’s high environmental impact based on Carbon dioxide emissions to 2013.

    EU Edgar Data Base (

    The World Bank data contains mere projections for the period 2011-15:

    Australia is one of the worst per capita emitters of CO2 at 16.9 tonnes which is well down from a peak of 20.2 tonnes in 2005 during the pre-GFC period.

    This 16.9 tonnes represents about two thirds of all emissions when emissions from other industrial wastes and methane largely from farm animals is added. This takes Australia’s emissions to 25.35 tonnes per person.

    While pillaging Julia Gillard for the introduction of the carbon tax, the LNP is keep to take all the credit for emission reductions since 2005,

    I do hope that some accord can be achieved between the ALP and the Greens on climate activism as various approaches can work and the idea of a new carbon tax is politically toxic for the ALP.

    Winning one or two more inner city seats in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne for the Greens will not defeat the LNP and they should call a truce on the new political sectarianism which had followed the elevation Richard De Natale to the leadership.

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