Participation of the US is critical to long-term efforts to control climate change, yet Australia is also a significant force internationally and its unwillingness to ratify gives greater apparent legitimacy to the US position. This discussion paper by Clive Hamilton, Justin Sherrard and Alan Tate draws on papers prepared by the Australia Institute to inform the deliberations of the International Climate Change Taskforce. It recommends the development of a new global plan and works to involve all countries in action on climate change.

As a wealthy nation with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita among developed countries, Australia’s refusal to participate in the international agreement means that developing countries will be less likely to make commitments to reduce their own emissions in the longer term. 

This paper proposes a new global plan for international action on climate change. In developing the framework we have been guided by four fundamental considerations: 

  • recognition of the requirements of fairness between nations ; 
  • the central importance of the Kyoto architecture; 
  • the long-term need to move towards equal per capita emission rights; and 
  • political feasibility. 

The proposed framework would enable all countries to work together to achieve deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decades. It involves industrialised nations accepting deeper mandatory cuts and includes abatement actions by developing countries. 

Drawing on a number of so-called multistage approaches, the elements of the global framework are as follows. 

1. It accepts that a commitment to a long-term global target is needed to meet the UNFCCC’s ultimate objective of preventing human-induced climate change from reaching a ‘dangerous’ level. 

2. It envisages the allocation of each country to a stage. There are three stages for developing countries reflecting differences in national circumstances. Developed countries fall into two stages: already industrialised (Annex II) and economies in transition. 

3. The US and Australia would proceed on a transitional parallel track, which converges with the Kyoto system. The adoption by the US and Australia of domestic emissions trading systems, harmonised with the EU or Kyoto trading system, is at the centre of the US/Australian track.

 4. Developed countries would accept deeper emission reduction commitments following the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012). These countries, which have a high capability to mitigate, will also agree to transfer technology and financial resources to developing countries. 

5. Developing countries would operate under a flexible system based on three progressive stages, broadly reflecting current states of development. Those countries in the initial stages agree to align climate and development objectives and receive financial and technology assistance from developed countries. The middle stage is characterised by energy sector reform and agreed carbon viii The Australia Institute intensity targets. The final stage requires binding emission reduction targets coupled with access to the Kyoto Protocol’s flexibility mechanisms. For all developing countries there is a clear focus on sustainability in the energy sector aimed at enabling development to proceed but with declining dependence on greenhouse-gas intensive technologies, along with concerted action on adaptation. 

The parallel US/Australia track enables the US and Australia to re-engage with international efforts. In addition to joining international negotiations, both countries would develop and implement mandatory domestic abatement programs. In the US the most promising domestic approach is a national cap-and-trade system along the lines proposed in the McCain-Lieberman Bill. The US and Australian emissions trading systems would be designed to harmonise with the European system (or possibly the Kyoto system) with a view to trading between the systems beginning during or immediately after the first commitment period. This will require some parity in the levels of the caps in the systems. 

The Kyoto countries and the US and Australia would agree to negotiate terms under which the US/Australia track and the Kyoto system converge fully in a new global agreement under the auspices of the UNFCCC, to which all parties would agree to be bound. In addition the US and Australia would be encouraged to participate in UNFCCC and Kyoto mechanisms designed to assist developing countries to limit emissions and adapt to climate change. 

In the post-2012 period developed countries take on deeper, legally binding emissions reduction commitments, which would be successively negotiated over coming decades with reference to the long-term global climate target. Transfers to developing countries of technological and financial resources for mitigation and adaptation would occur through the effective operation of the mechanisms established under the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and associated agreements. 

The allocation of developing countries initially to one of the three stages would be guided by two main criteria: capability to mitigate (measured, for example, by GDP per capita) and potential to mitigate (measured, for example, by the degree of energy efficiency). Two other considerations would also be taken into account. The first is the historical responsibility of countries for their contribution to the climate change problem. Secondly, account should be taken of the size of a country’s total emissions even if its per capita emissions and per capita income are relatively low. This applies particularly to major emitters, notably China, India and Brazil. 

It is proposed that negotiations begin as early as COP 11 in 2005. The aim would be for all parties to develop a set of commitments and actions founded upon the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol and consistent with the concepts outlined in this paper. Ideally the US would offer to host the final stage of these negotiations, which would consolidate the proposed new global plan and set out the agreed commitments and actions for the post-2012 period.

To read the paper in full, please click here.