Culture

Paris Climate Talks Reach Historic Agreement, As Turnbull Lifts Abbott’s Wind Power Investment Ban

But we still have a long road ahead of us.

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After two decades, including the past two weeks, Paris’ gruelling climate change talks have finally come to a head: this morning nearly 200 countries signed up to limit temperature rises and phase out the use of fossil fuels.

The new treaty, which will commence five years from now in 2020, aims to slow the pace of global warming to below 2 degrees by reaching net zero carbon emissions by the second half of the century. Considering we’re currently producing around 10 billion metric tonnes of emissions a year globally, it’s an ambitious target, and one that sends a powerful message.

When French foreign minister Laurent Fabius brought down his fancy, leaf-shaped gavel to cement the agreement, the exhibition hall erupted into cheers. “It is my deep conviction that we have come up with an ambitious and balanced agreement. Today it is a moment of truth,” said Fabius.

US president Barack Obama said the agreement was pivotal in ensuring the planet’s survival and “a tribute to strong, principled American leadership”.

“This agreement represents the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got,” he said, but adding soberly that “the deal was not perfect. The problem’s not solved because of this accord.”

There to represent Australia was foreign minister Julie Bishop, who also spoke on behalf of the Umbrella Group of Countries, a loose coalition of developed non-European nations.

“Our work here is done and now we can return home to implement this historic agreement. This is a pivotal moment,” she said.

“No country would see this as the perfect outcome. Certainly it does not include everything that we envisaged. However this agreement does give us a strategy to work over coming years and decade to build the strong and effective action the world needs.”

See, our politicians are mature sometimes. They don’t politicise every event. They’re not always about point-scoring.

Oh, never mind.

Oof, Bishop really shouldn’t have opened that particular can of worms.

But embarrassing Twitter-squabbles between adult government officials aside, some people are cautious about celebrating today’s outcome. A globally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions sends the right signal, but as the Guardian’s Lenore Taylor said, neither the Coalition nor the Labor Party have released details about their revised climate policies (though at least Labor have announced they’ve got one) — lest they risk votes before next year’s election — and the current ones clearly won’t do anymore.

“We will be under pressure to revise our emission reduction target out to 2030 – the one we brought to Paris – by 2020,” Taylor said. “Given that we are among the world’s highest per capita emitters and our target has been rated inadequate by the Climate Tracker think tank and other analysts, we are going to be under strong pressure to increase its ambition.”

There’s also the part where the government has just approved the construction of Australia’s biggest ever coal mine — the Adani Carmichael mine in central Queensland — despite conservationists condemning it as environmentally irresponsible, and even taking them to the court over it (guess those pro-coal campaigns don’t work on everyone).

One thing that is being heralded as a clear step in the right direction though, is the Prime Minister’s reversal of Tony Abbott’s controversial ban on government finance for wind power — the very power that comes from those awful ‘eye-sores’ Hockey complained about and apparently deserved a senate inquiry.

The Abbott government’s decree, which was put forward in June, prohibited the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) from investing in new wind power projects. But this weekend, Fairfax reported that Environment Minister Greg Hunt issued a new mandate allowing the corporation to invest in any “emerging and innovative” technology, including wind power. Confusingly, though, the Turnbull government is still committed to abolishing the CEFC.

While the reversal is a big leap for the renewable energy industry in Australia, there’s still plenty standing in the way of this country reaching its freshly-committed green target — such as the continued stubborn investment in coal — especially if the Coalition in its current state, which contains noted climate change denialists, wins the next election. If the government is serious about its commitment to the Paris agreement, it will need to drastically alter its attitudes and policies surrounding the environment, starting right now.

Feature image by Leaflet via a Creative Commons licence.