The global coronavirus pandemic has pushed climate change off the front pages, but the challenge of responding to the climate emergency has not disappeared.
Global emissions of greenhouse gases will likely drop in coming months, as air travel is reduced, international trade falters and many countries prepare for economic recession.
But later this year, governments must decide how to resume global negotiations to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland, in November this year.
If governments come together on schedule, the battle will resume over Australia’s proposal to use “carryover credits” to meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the largest member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia stands alone in the belief that it can meet its Paris Agreement target for emissions reduction by using credits obtained under the Kyoto Protocol, when it ends.
UNDERSTANDING THE NUMBERS
The measurement of emissions has been debated since the 1997 adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC. Coming into force in 2005, Kyoto’s first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012, with a second commitment period from 2013 until this year. From 2020, the provisions of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change come into play.
Unlike Kyoto, which set binding emissions reduction targets for just 36 industrialised countries and the European Union, the Paris Agreement is legally binding for 194 states, both developed and developing; the United States under President Donald Trump is the only nation that has announced its withdrawal after signing the treaty. Under the Paris Agreement, countries make a voluntary emissions reduction commitment – known as a Nationally Determined Contribution – with a target set for 2030.
The debate over emissions reductions and carryover credits can be confusing, as countries use different baselines to set their targets. Some commitments to reduce emissions include all sectors of the economy, while others exclude certain sectors (agriculture, land clearing and deforestation, transport, energy etc). Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) states: “Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This builds on our target under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.”
At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, Prime Minister Morrison repeatedly stressed that Australia is on track to “meet and beat” these Kyoto and Paris targets. This was reaffirmed in Australia’s official statement to COP25 in Madrid, when Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said: “Our recently released forecasts say that we expect to beat our 2020 targets by 411 million tonnes, which is around 80 per cent of a full year of emissions.”
This magic figure of 411 million tonnes comes from Canberra’s latest official emissions projections, released in December 2019. They state that Australia went beyond its target for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012), gaining credit for 128 million tonnes of Co2 equivalent (Mt CO2-e). Further emissions reductions in the second Kyoto period (2013-2020) bring the total credits to 411 million tonnes.
There are two key reasons that Australia went beyond its Kyoto targets. Firstly, Australia had very high domestic emissions from deforestation in 1990, the baseline year to measure targets. With reduced land clearing and deforestation in subsequent years, overall emissions reduced without the need to cut as much greenhouse gas from coalfired power stations or energy-intensive manufacturing industries like aluminium and cement.
The second source of credits comes from tough Australian diplomatic tactics during the Kyoto negotiations. Instead of a reduction of emissions, the Howard government won an increase of 8 per cent in its emissions in the first Kyoto commitment period. For the second Kyoto period, only a minimal 0.5 per cent reduction was required. With far less ambitious targets than other comparable developed countries, Australia is now claiming to have “overachieved.”
In the real world, however, the actual reduction of Australian greenhouse gas emissions is projected to be 14-16 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, rather than the official target of 26-28 per cent. In order to “meet and beat” the Paris Agreement target, therefore, Australia must use some or all of the Kyoto-era credits.
The government’s policies on Kyoto credits are backed by the coal mining industry, which is seeking to expand rather than reduce operations in coming years. The Minerals Council of Australia has argued that “the use of Kyoto carryover credits has long been accepted and is allowable under the Paris Agreement”.
This argument, however, is ridiculed by legal experts. Last month, nine law professors wrote to Prime Minister Morrison stating that there is no legal basis to meet half of Australia’s emissions targets by using carryover credits: “Our considered view is that the proposed use of these ‘Kyoto credits’ to meet targets under the Paris Agreement is legally baseless at international law. The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are entirely separate treaties. There is no provision in the Paris Agreement that refers to the Kyoto Protocol nor to the units established under it.”
Politically, Australia is isolated from most international opinion on this issue. While Russia and Ukraine have suggested they might use these credits, all major OECD countries – Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Norway and others – have expressly ruled out their use. Last October, Australian Department of Environment and Energy officials admitted to a Senate hearing: “We are not aware of other countries that are intending to use carry over. Just Australia.”
Professor Frank Jotzo of the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy is a leading climate policy analyst. For COP25, Jotzo was critical of the proposed use of Kyoto carryover credits: “We are the only country planning to ‘carry over.’ Almost all countries that care are opposed to it. It reminds the world of the ‘Australia clause’ which the Howard government pushed through at the 1997 Kyoto summit, allowing Australia to count land-use change reductions. It is what created the Kyoto carry-over credits in the first place.”
By themselves, Australian use of carryover credits wouldn’t break the Paris Agreement. However globally, there are billions of tonnes of credits around the world generated during the Kyoto years. Many climate analysts are concerned that Australian efforts to water down its climate targets through accounting loopholes will only encourage other major countries like Russia, Brazil and China to follow suit.
Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary between 2010 to 2016, visited Australia in March and accused the Morrison government of “cheating” on its emissions targets.
“If you go as a tennis player to the Australian Open, and you get your final score and your final standing, do you then progress to Wimbledon and pick up the scores that you had from the Australian Open? It just doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “It is not legal, it is not correct, it is not moral. It is cheating, period. When you finish one tournament – and the Kyoto Protocol has finished – then you start the next. But you do not pull something from the previous efforts and the previous regulatory framework to the next one.”
PACIFIC OPPOSES CREDITS
Pacific governments have joined other developing states to condemn any use of Kyoto credits to reach Paris targets. The 2019 summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF)
in Nadi called on “relevant parties to the Kyoto Protocol to refrain from using ‘carryover credits’ as an abatement for the additional Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets.”
Last November at COP25 in Madrid, developing countries tried to include new text into the rulebook for the Paris Agreement that would ban the use of Kyoto carryover credits. During the negotiations, this ban was supported by three major negotiating blocs that include many Small Island Developing States: the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries group (LDCs) and the independent alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.
However, the UNFCCC negotiations work on consensus, and these changes to the rulebook were not enacted in Madrid– they’ll be discussed again at the next UNFCCC meeting in June and COP26 in Glasgow.
In the final hours of the Madrid conference, Pacific delegations joined Germany, France, Britain, and other nations to condemn efforts by Brazil and Australia to weaken carbon markets. New Zealand, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Fiji were amongst a group of 27 countries that issued the ‘San Jose Principles for High Ambition and Integrity in International Carbon Markets.’ Amongst 11 measures, these San Jose principles expressly “prohibit the use of pre2020 units, Kyoto units and allowances, and any underlying reductions toward Paris Agreement and other international goals.”
Instead of reliance on past efforts, ANU’s Professor Frank Jotzo has called for new government-to-government initiatives, creating a system with neighbouring countries for sharing the credit for bilateral initiatives to cut emissions: “Combined with meaningful action to cut emissions at home, it would signal that Australian ingenuity can be used to address climate change, not just for creative accounting. As the developed country most affected by climate change, it is in our interest to lead by example, not to be seen as a recalcitrant.”
The future of this debate is in the wind. The current global crisis around the COVID-19 coronavirus involves economic and social effects that make the future of climate policy hard to predict. Even so, governments around the world are adopting tactics that will be required to respond to the climate emergency; drawing on the advice of scientific experts rather than ideologies prioritising the health and wellbeing of citizens over existing priorities on debt and deficit, massive financial support to industries affected by the crisis, establishing “whole of government” taskforces and even governments of national unity.
Will we slip back to business as usual on climate policy, or will the experience of working together on COVID-19 provide a model for national and global co-operation in response to the ongoing climate emergency?
In January at the height of the Australian bushfires, I received a message from James Walau, a ni-Vanuatu Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) team leader, informing me that he and his team of 47 had left Batlow due to the impending fire. Since September 2019, Australian firefighters have been battling bushfires and it is estimated, currently, that over 12 million hectares has burnt. Among the many affected are farmers and workers participating in the SWP. This blog discusses the impact on a group of 48 ni-Vanuatu SWP workers evacuated from Batlow in the New South Wales Riverina region. It is in no way intended to neglect or downplay the experiences of the thousands of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods, and those who have lost their lives and loved ones. Rather, this blog is part of a larger discussion on experiences of SWP workers in Australia.
In the first few days of 2020, the community of Batlow was told to evacuate. It was predicted that the fire would destroy the township, which was declared to be ‘undefendable’. The team of ni-Vanuatu workers had only been in Batlow since late November 2019, five or six weeks into their six to nine month stint working on orchards with apples and berries. For many, this was not their first SWP season, and knowing the area proved to be advantageous in their evacuation. As Walau informed ABC’s Pacific Beat, ‘We are lucky, we have so many friends that helped us. We know the area with the two seasons we already have, so easier for us to move.’
The group, all men, evacuated Batlow – their workplace and home – on 31 December. In preparation for the evacuation, workers had been informed to pack all essential documentation and their bags. They did not know what the fate of the farm would be, only to prepare for the worst. A packhouse for berries had already been destroyed by the fire.
Initially, the group took refuge at the Batlow RSL Club; however, it was clear this was not going to be a safe option. After discussion, Canberra was ruled out and the next plan was to travel the 25 minutes to the Adelong evacuation centre. Once they arrived in Adelong, they realised the centre could not accommodate everyone, so the decision was made to travel further again, another hour away to Wagga Wagga where they could all be accommodated together.
When they got to Wagga Wagga, they notified their labour hire company of their safe arrival and their employer transferred money into a bank account for the workers to purchase food and supplies. The group were welcomed into the township of Wagga Wagga and received excellent support from the community. In a video clip, that’s since gone viral, workers showed their appreciation to the host township too. The group also became involved in community fundraising activities through a local church to assist with donations for those affected by the bushfires.
Fundraisers are a normal part of life in many Pacific countries. In previous work I have documented how seasonal workers have contributed funds to assist with responses to natural disasters in their respective countries, but also those in their host countries. Workers in New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) raised funds for Christchurch after the tragic 2011 earthquake. SWP workers not only fundraised, but also assisted in evacuations and the clean-up process in response to various floods in Queensland. Colin Foyster, an avocado farmer in northern New South Wales, also praised his workers from Papua New Guinea for helping to fight the fire on his farm. Support from Pacific workers for the communities in which they live and work during their time in Australia has always been valued.
We’ve seen generous support for Australia from Pacific nations for the bushfire disaster too. Papua New Guinea deployed 100 military personnel on 13 January. Vanuatu donated 20 million vatu (approximately A$240,000). And there are stories of grassroots fundraising for the fires from communities across the Pacific.
Back to business as usual?
Walau and the group returned to Batlow on 12 January and started work again the next day. The orchards where they are employed only suffered minor damage. Walau told ABC’s Pacific Beat,
‘We prayed for our farm to be protect [sic] so we could have jobs … now we can go back to our jobs … We are so lucky our orchard is safe and our camp is safe. When I let the guys know, they just praised God and [started] singing, because they feel they are going to have a job again.’
They were lucky in comparison to other farmers in the region. On 11 January, ABC Canberra spoke with Batlow apple farmer Malcolm Stein reporting that, ‘thousands of trees were lost at his orchard in Batlow after fires swept through the Snowy Mountains’.
The season for SWP workers is short. With the workers having only resided in Batlow for approximately five to six weeks when the fire swept through, there is a high chance that they would have only just paid off the debt associated with participation in SWP. Some may still owe money, as depending on the season’s work it can take up to two months before workers begin to start earning money over and above their participation costs. Time not working is time and money lost.
The Batlow example had a good outcome. But has it been the same for other SWP workers in similar positions?
Unable to obtain data on the number of SWP workers affected by bushfires, it is unclear what the impact has been. A recent Radio New Zealand article citing Vanuatu’s Labour Commissioner, Murielle Meltenoven, stated, ‘there are 480 workers who are not in danger or [are] unlikely to be brought back to Vanuatu’. What, then, is the total number of SWP workers affected? How many SWP Approved Employers have endured significant damage? Will this impact the jobs available for seasonal workers in future seasons?
For workers currently in Australia – what have been their experiences of the bushfires, what impact has it had on their earnings, will it affect future job prospects, and do they have any intention of returning for another season? There will be several lessons to be learned from this disaster. In order to figure out what lessons need to be addressed, more research is required. Conversations with labour contractors, employers, workers, local communities and participating government departments, will be necessary to piece together a full understanding of the impact.
This article appeared first on Devpolicy Blog, devpolicy.org, from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University
Rochelle Bailey is a Research Fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs, ANU.
By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby
THE world has gathered in Madrid, Spain to discuss the existential threat which climate change presents to the environment through rising temperatures and melting ice.
Halfway across the globe, the guardians of Pacific fisheries are seated in an indoor stadium to discuss the impact climate change has had on the region’s most important resource – tuna.
The Pacific accounts for roughly half of the global tuna market which is worth around $USD42 million each year. Fishing companies were paid $USD10 billion for 4.99 million tons of tuna landed on docks around the world in 2014.
That product was worth $USD42 billion after processing. It has been suggested that the total value of landed tuna to the Pacific is $USD5 billion and $USD22billion after processing.
Much of the Pacific’s tuna stocks of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Big Eye are caught between Papua New Guinea in the West and Kiribati in the East.
But as the Pacific Ocean grows warmer, it is expected that the tuna will begin to move further East.
PNG Fisheries Minister, Dr Lino Tom, told local journalists that Skipjack and Yellowfin stocks in the country’s EEZ could drop by as much as 37 per cent by 2050.
That would mean a market worth $USD128.8 million in 2016 could bring in only $USD81.1 million by the middle of this century.
Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation show that Skipjack and yellowfin which make up the vast majority of the Pacific catch tend to shift from PNG and the Federated States of Micronesia towards Kiribati and Tuvalu.
But if global temperatures continue their steady rise and an estimate two to three-degree Celsius increase over current levels, even Kiribati and Tuvalu can see the impact on their stocks.
Tuvalu Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, was forthright in his views on rising temperatures.
“As the climate warms, oceanic conditions change to provide more frequent and eventually permanent El Nino conditions,” Taupo said at the 16th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
“In the short term this is good for Tuvalu. There is more tuna in our waters in El Nino years. In the longer term … the main fishing areas are expected to move out of our EEZ and into the Eastern High Seas pocket and eventually into the Eastern Pacific.’’
That would mean a huge loss of income to a small country heavily reliant on tuna for its foreign revenue through licences to fishing vessels which raked in $USD24 million.
Tuvalu’s tuna sales have been estimated at a further US$198 million.
With the looming threat of tuna migration due to warmer oceans, Taupo was clear about the effects of such a move.
“Climate change is not a problem that Tuvalu has caused but we are going to suffer the effects,” he said.
But for Tuvalu the tuna migration is only part of the problem faced by its fishery due to climate change. Rising temperatures means rising sea levels.
“If the islands and reefs go completely under water, we may lose our EEZs,” Taupo said.
“Our EEZ is defined by the edge of the reef at low tide. As sea levels rise these baselines move back, reducing the size of our EEZ.
“Warmer water and higher acidity of seawater will result in the destruction of our coral reefs which are the habitat for most of our important inshore food fish.
“It may also affect the success of fish breeding and the growth of shellfish.’’
Tuvalu estimates that on the current trend, production of inshore fishery will fall by 65 per cent by 2100 because of climate change.
Taupo suggested that current global arrangements be changed to prevent what he described as an injustice.
“In fisheries terms this would mean the boundaries of our EEZ are locked in and not changed as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise,” he said.
This would mean Tuvalu’s right to harvest tuna could be retained on the high seas when the fish moved.
Tuvalu has started discussions on changes to EEZ boundary definitions under United Nations conventions, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Driven by rising sea levels and global warming, Tuvalu will press for its boundaries to be defined by degrees of latitude and longitude rather than geographical features which may be lost under water.
The need for clearly defined national borders to exist well after the possible disappearance of the Pacific’s smaller nations is a matter of concern for many.
And some small island developing states believe that there is a need for greater attention to this issue by international organisations and countries outside the Pacific.
Kiribati’s Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara, recognised the threat faced by his island neighbour.
“Climate change is an existential threat to our region, and directly threatens our livelihoods, security and wellbeing. We need action on climate change to be a primary concern in all fields (aspects),” Nakara said.
While Nakara’s call for action was directed at the WCPFC and the Forum Fisheries Agency, he deftly linked the fisheries climate change problems to COP25 in Madrid.
“It is fitting that on the other side of the world in Madrid, the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC is convening this week. How wonderful it would be if this commission could adopt the climate change resolution as a contribution of the WCPFC to addressing this matter,” he said.
On two sides of the world, leaders meet this week, their discussions linked by climate change.
If the COP 25 meeting in Madrid does not take credible steps to reduce global warming, efforts by the WCPFC delegates to control and maintain tuna stocks may be in vain.
By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby
CLIMATE change threatens Tuvalu’s national survival through direct impact on tuna stocks.
The small atoll state told members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that tuna was its most important natural resource.
Tuvalu’s Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, told the WCPFC’s 16th Regular Session that they must address equitable solutions to climate change impacts on tuna.
“The climate change emergency is an issue that threatens the very survival of Tuvalu as a country; and the evidence now shows that it will have severe impacts on our most important natural resource – the tuna resources of our Exclusive Economic Zone,’’ Taupo said.
“Tuvalu urges WCPFC to take a strong stand on the issue of climate change.’’
Forum Fisheries Agency Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, recognised calls from Tuvalu and other member states for stronger action on climate change.
“Members are calling for stronger action by the (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries) commission, specifically looking at full recognition of impacts of climate change on fisheries, food security and livelihoods,” Tupou-Roosen said.
“(We must ensure) that the commission actively considers those impacts and they deliberate on the development of conservation management issues, again looking at the carbon footprint estimate.’’
Tupou-Roosen said member-states had called for a strong course of action.
“We must meet this challenge head on - it's clear from our leaders,’’ she said.
“So, we will need to look at what it is in (our) activities and provide options for how to offset or reduce the carbon footprint.’’
Tuvalu indicated that it would be open to further discussion in an effort to reach consensus on issues including climate change.
“It is in all our interests to reach agreement and strengthen the management of our oceanic fisheries resources,” Fisheries Minister Tupou said.
Forum Fisheries Commission Chair, Eugene Pangelinan, said it was important to have a starting point on discussions.
“I think we need to understand and climate change is happening to us and as the minister highlighted, we need to start the process here,” Pangelinan said.