Walking the green mile to climate agreement
Accomplishing global agreement on emissions reductions has become a Sisyphean task – it is the boulder that keeps bouncing back.
Melbourne alumnus Fergus Green believes large-scale climate conferences will not remain the preferred forum for developing global climate policy, as nations learn from the mistakes of the United Nations Climate Change Conferences of Copenhagen (2009) and Durban (2011).
“The sheer scale of what nations are trying to do through these conferences is immense,” Mr Green says.
“Countries are trying to agree not just on emissions reductions targets for developed economies, but also on financing and technology for emissions cuts in developing countries, adaptation to climate impacts and a host of other incredibly complex issues.”
Mr Green believes the task is too ambitious and unwieldy to be addressed in one forum.
“Countries are trying to develop consensus with nearly every nation on the planet. It is a mammoth task, and there is little wonder that the process fails to produce anything meaningful, considering the issues and parties involved.”
Mr Green is one of Australia’s ‘rising stars’ in climate change policy. The 29 year-old lawyer with Allens Arthur Robinson recently received the Sir John Monash Scholarship, which will fund a Masters in Philosophy and Public Policy at the London School of Economics, starting in October.
The Sir John Monash Foundation’s scholarship funds three years’ study, which Mr Green hopes will include the first two years spent on a PhD looking into climate change policy reform. He believes current policy has been hampered by, among other things, unwieldy negotiating efforts.
“I think what needs to happen – and could happen – is that if we have a couple more years of little progress through United Nations negotiations, then countries will looks to other ways to cooperate.”
Mr Green believes much can be done to revolutionise international coordination, with bilateral relationships and small cooperative groupings becoming more widespread.
“There is an enormous amount that can be done by individual countries and small groups of nations in dealing with the problem of global emissions reductions,” Mr Green says.
“What could and should happen is that instead of dealing with all the climate change issues in one package, we split off different issues into different forums.”
He believes that single-issue treaties or informal agreements could be an effective way of circumventing the malaise currently delaying a comprehensive agreement within the UN process.
“Even if you say emissions reduction is one part of the big issue, then that too could get split up,” Mr Green says.
“For instance, you could get different countries focusing on renewable energy technology research and development. That could be done among countries that have a strong interest in development of particular technologies.”
Research and innovation have been under-utilised tools in the relationship between developed and developing economies. Bilateral relationships are set to spread into other fields.
“We are already seeing a number of developing nations with large tracts of tropical forest cooperating with donor nations to find ways to retain those forests,” Mr Green says.
“You could see cooperation among smaller groups on issues such as reducing emissions from the use of fuel in international shipping and aviation, as is already happening in the EU; you could even see cooperation to scale back the international trade in coal and other fossil fuels.”
Mr Green stresses the importance of separating disagreement on a UN climate change treaty from progress within individual countries on policies to reduce global carbon emissions. He believes both developed and developing economies are taking steps to alleviate climate change.
“Nations will continue to take domestic action and find other ways to reduce emissions. I think that process will accelerate amidst continued failure at UN conferences.”
Australia’s domestic energy policies have recently been in a state of flux. Mr Green keenly points out that to achieve a low carbon future more is needed than simply relying on a Federal Government pricing scheme.
“We need to assume that the Federal carbon price is not going to do all the work required to achieve a true ‘clean energy future’,” he says.
“We will need other policies at a State and Federal level and we need to think of how we can design them in a way that is harmonious. These policies need to reinforce rather than undercut one another.”
Mr Green believes that State governments, notably in Victoria and Queensland, erred in their decision to scrap or alter policies promoting renewable energy.
“The scrapping of subsidies for renewable energy was short-sighted given that the Federal carbon price will do little to provide incentives for renewable energy production because of its poor design,” he says.
“Unfortunately, some States are using the Federal Government pricing scheme as a pretext to just scrap anything that has a hint of ‘green’ in it.”
As with international relationships, domestic steps to reduce our carbon footprint depend on cooperation. There is no escaping the need for innovation and coordination.