There are a number of myths surrounding the Paris Agreement.
The first, and strangely enduring, one is that Tony Abbott committed us to the agreement. Let’s accept that, as Prime Minister, Abbott agreed that negotiations could be based on a 26% target. Unfortunately for Abbott, he was knifed some three months before he had a chance to commit us to an agreement that was signed on 12th December 2015. Abbott claims that his intention was that the agreement would apply to Australia only if all other countries made meaningful commitments and stuck to them. In other words, he reserved the right to withdraw if it became obvious that the agreement was not working , which has now become apparent – as even the climate alarmists are conceding. He rightly points out that Donald Trump had clearly signalled his intention to withdraw if elected and that would have altered the situation. That may be self-serving rhetoric from Abbott but, since he was denied the opportunity to put that resolve into practice, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. But what can be said unequivocally is that Tony Abbott did not commit us to the Paris Agreement. And it is not inconsistent for him to now advocate our withdrawal from it.
The second myth is the conflation of the Paris Agreement commitment with our electricity sector. Some conservative commentators, such as Chris Kenny, claim that there is an inherent contradiction in Scott Morrison’s commitment to lowering power prices and his, apparent, continuing support for the Agreement. Here is Kenny in last Weekend Australian:
It is one thing for Morrison to remain in Paris but it is quite another to place great store on meeting the targets. Most other signatories have no meaningful targets to meet or are on track to miss them. Our Prime Minister ought to make clear that if something needs to give on electricity prices, reliability or emissions targets, it is the climate goals that will be disregarded.
Instead he is stuck arguing a contradictory line: that the Paris emissions reductions can be delivered at no cost but Labor’s higher targets will be costly.
The point that Kenny has consistently missed is that the Paris Agreement applies to the whole economy not just the electricity sector which comprises only 30% of our emissions. There is no inherent contradiction in Morrison’s position. He could exempt the electricity sector from any further mandated cuts and simply impose an additional burden of the other sectors, principally transport and agriculture, to make up the shortfall. So why hasn’t Morrison said this explicitly?
Well, that’s because he doesn’t want to scare the punters and, as a result, the public is being lulled into a false sense of security. I strongly suspect that most voters believe that once we’ve cut emissions in the electricity sector by 26% then that’s the job done and dusted – pain over. Kenny’s analysis would tend to reinforce this misperception. And they are being told, by Morrison and the renewable industry, that the target will be easily achieved anyway by 2020. If Morrison were to come out now and say “no, the pain is only just beginning”, more people might join the chorus to get out of the Paris Agreement.
Paul Kelly recently claimed:
Polls say the public expects Australia to participate in global action on emissions reduction.
“Which polls?” one may well ask. But even if Kelly’s claim were true, it may be because they don’t have any idea of the real cost of such action. And how could they? The government has not done any costing on this commitment let alone released their findings to the public. I expect this support would largely evaporate if the government were to come clean on the real extent and cost of adhering to its relatively modest target.
Another myth, being propagated by Peta Credlin and others, is that the Paris targets are aspirational only and never intended to be binding, let alone legislated. It is true that the Paris Agreement targets are non-binding, which simply means that there are no in-built sanctions on signatory countries for failing to meet them. The Agreement also mandates that countries may increase their targets but not reduce them. The clear intention going into the Paris talks was that the agreement would be binding. As it turned out that was a step too far for most signatories and, in the end, what was agreed was that countries would make their best endeavours to meet their self-imposed targets. Given that CO2 emissions reductions impose significant costs on individuals and business, ‘best endeavours’ necessarily mandates legislation of some kind or other. Voluntary action is unlikely to work. Evidence has shown that very few people will even agree to a voluntary $2 carbon offset when they fly. So how much more receptive will they be when it is made clear to them that 26% emissions reduction in the electricity sector is just the start of the pain. The targets may not be binding on the government but, to comply with the spirit and intent of the Agreement, governments, ultimately, must make them binding on their citizens in some way.
Of course, the fact is, we could repudiate the Paris Agreement but that would not stop Labor legislating its own targets anyway. It would not need the Paris Agreement, but it would be so much easier for them to argue their case for 45% emissions reduction based on the Coalition’s own rhetoric, namely its nominal support for the agreement that it negotiated and signed.
If conservatives are to win this debate they must ensure that they argue based on a complete understanding of the facts and issues.
It is possible the government has put the entire Paris Agreement, not just the electricity sector portion, on the backburner and intends to leave it there ad infinitum. But I doubt it.
So why should the government repudiate the Paris Agreement? There are three reasons.
The first, as a symbolic gesture that we will not subordinate our national interest to the United Nations for purely symbolic rhetoric.
Secondly, to deny Labor a vehicle with which to wedge the Coalition by preaching their own superior virtue viz a stronger version of Paris than the Coalition’s.
And lastly, and most importantly, to commence the arduous task of disengaging from the CAGW myth. Admittedly, this is the tricky part. It can’t be denied that some Coalition MPs accept the CAGW premise and, when challenged with the brutal reality of the futility of the Paris Agreement, they avert their eyes from the uncomfortable truth and trot out the dumbest myth of all – that we, as an upstanding global citizen, must stand by the commitments we have made.