Peter Dutton’s plans will breach the Paris agreement on climate – that much is clear – The Guardian

The Coalition’s rejection of a 43% cut in emissions by 2030 will have major ramifications for us and the world
Peter Dutton plans to breach the text and spirit of the landmark Paris climate agreement, backed in 2015 by a Coalition government along with the leaders of more than 190 other countries.
This should be clear to anyone who clicks on this link and reads the deal reached in the French capital.
Dutton did not say in an interview with News Corp published on Saturday that he would formally pull out of the agreement if the Coalition won the next election. But he did confirm a position that would put Australia at odds with what it sets out to do.
Since this was pointed out by people with decades of experience at highly technical climate negotiations, the Coalition has responded with a mix of half-truths and falsehoods.
Both Dutton and Ted O’Brien, the opposition climate change and energy spokesperson, say a Coalition government would be committed to the agreement but reject the national 2030 emissions target – that is, a minimum 43% cut below what emissions were in 2005.
A bit on the target: Labor took it to the 2022 election after asking the consultants RepuTex to calculate what its policies would deliver. It was legislated with the support of the Greens and independent MPs after they made an evidence-based argument that Australia should be doing more. It was also submitted to the UN as a pledge.
Here’s what the Paris agreement says about these pledges, known in UN lingo as “nationally determined contributions”: that countries will build on them over time. Article 4.3 of the agreement says each commitment a country makes will be a progression – an improvement – and “reflect its highest possible ambition”. Article 4.11 says a country can adjust its commitment “with a view to enhancing its level of ambition”.
It means countries can increase commitments at any time they like, but there should not be backsliding.
The climate crisis is already fuelling heatwaves, extreme weather and potentially extraordinary and catastrophic changes in natural systems. In Paris governments accepted the scientific and economic evidence that the threat and cost of climate change to lives, livelihoods and the natural world was escalating. They agreed they needed to ramp up action, not put it off.
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Dutton and O’Brien seem to ignore this part of the Paris agreement, and instead argue the Coalition is committed to the deal because it would stick to a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
This is misleading. In addition to including net zero – expressed as aiming for a global balance in the second half of the century between the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere and the CO2 we draw out of it – the agreement emphasises the need to act rapidly, with new national pledges every five years. It says countries will aim to hold the increase in average temperatures since preindustrial levels to well below 2C and try to limit it to 1.5C – a level that we have already nearly reached.
Promising to do less now, having few if any policies to reduce emissions before 2040 and planning for Australia to in the meantime pump hundreds of millions of additional tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere would be the opposite of being committed to this goal.
The Coalition should be clear with the public about what it is proposing, and news media should be clear with audiences about the potential ramifications.
Australia will face no direct penalties under the UN process if it goes down Dutton’s path – or, for that matter, if Labor stays in power but misses its target. National pledges under the Paris agreement are not binding in this way.
But John Connor, who helped Fiji run the UN climate negotiations between 2017 and 2019 and now leads the Australian Carbon Market Institute, says the Coalition’s plan to weaken a commitment under the Paris deal would be historic. No other country has done it.
Experts say the ramifications could include Australia being diplomatically isolated – a return to the days of the Morrison government, when it was grouped with laggards such as Russia and Saudi Arabia on climate. It would, by design, hurt the country’s ability to attract the hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment needed to replace fossil fuels and build new, clean industries.
It could also lead to Australian businesses facing additional costs as other countries – the European Union, for example – impose carbon tariffs on goods from nations that are not acting on the climate crisis.
It is worth also examining the Coalition’s claim that it is committed to net zero emissions. Is it really? We haven’t seen its policy yet, but it is promised to be pro-gas – adding new emissions – and pro-nuclear.
Dutton has reportedly now conceded that no nuclear plants will be built before 2040. The CSIRO and others say they would be hugely expensive. The overseas experience says it would be hugely difficult to get up. But the Coalition’s position appears to be that this industry will emerge in Australia after 2040 to deliver net zero emissions in less than a decade.
In the real world, reaching net zero will require painstakingly detailed work across nearly everything the country does – electricity generation, manufacturing, heavy industry, transport, buildings, waste, agriculture.
We will get a better idea of where Labor stands later this year, when it has promised to release emissions reduction plans for each sector of the economy. To be successful, they will need to vault the country beyond what is now proposed. There is no sign that the Coalition is considering similar work.
One final point: Dutton and O’Brien say they would not back the national 2030 target because it is “unachievable”, “not working” and a “Labor lie”.
It’s reasonable to question whether the country is on track to meet the target given the challenges in quickly building the transmission lines and large-scale wind and solar farms needed to get there, and Labor’s approval of new fossil fuels developments.
But departmental projections released in November estimate that announced policies could take the country to a 42% cut by 2030.
They suggest that the 43% target is achievable, just not guaranteed. And at this point the only thing certain to make it unachievable is having no policies to get there.