‘Robust’ review system needed for global emissions targets

7.30 Report



LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: World leaders have nearly 150 nations are converging on Paris for another round of talks aimed at securing agreement on how to limit climate change. Countries first came together in Rio in 1992 to try to find consensus on global warming mitigation, but in more than 20 years, it’s been elusive.

Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd experienced the difficulties first hand at the 2009 round of talks in Copenhagen. He’s in Paris this time around as part of his role with the Asia Society Policy Institute and he joins 7.30 now.

Mr Rudd, the same basic issue confronts the Paris meeting as the one in Copenhagen as the one in Rio way back in 1992, which is that developed countries have differing needs and priorities to developing countries. Why then should we expect the outcome to be any different this time around?

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: Well Leigh, I think going into Copenhagen we had perhaps a three or four out of 10 prospect of success. Perhaps this time it’s more like six or seven out of 10 and the core reason is the posture of two or three of the major global players has now changed. Key among those is of course China, which has now embraced its own national and global responsibilities. The United States is also more proactive than it was in 2009, but there’s still a question mark about the posture to be adopted by India. So for those reasons, I think we are in a different space to that which we confronted back in ’09.

LEIGH SALES: Lots to unpack there, but first of all, why has China become more cooperative in this area?

KEVIN RUDD: Well the key reason for that is China has deduced from its own national self-interest point of view that a combination of carbon pollution in its major cities is unacceptable to the Chinese people, and on top of that, they recognise the emerging impacts of climate change, also from carbon pollution, the impact on their watertable, the impact more broadly on the availability of water supply in northern China, etc. So for national interest reasons, China’s position has changed 180 degrees. And because they are now the world’s largest emitter, having them on board for change is such a radically different position to that which we confronted in 2009.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned India. How meaningful could any agreement be without a significant contribution or commitment from India?

KEVIN RUDD: Well India now is a significant emitter, but if we look at the trajectory out for the next 15 years, it’ll be much more so. I suppose the best way of looking at it is India now is about where China’s industrialisation process was in 1980, and therefore, as it seeks to industrialise, we face the real risk of it becoming a major, major emitter. At the same time, we can’t say to the Indian people, “Stay in poverty.” That’s just unacceptable and unjust. The global effort, through research and development, but also other forms of direct assistance to our friends in India, must be for them to enable this industrial transformation of their economy in a much less carbon intensive way and a much more clean energy way than has been the case either for China or the rest of us from the West.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned that you thought maybe it was a six or a seven out of 10 in terms of the prospects for getting agreement this time around. Is part of the reason for that slightly better chance that world leaders are aiming low after the lack of success previously so they can say, “See, we got an agreement”?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, I choose to be on the side of the side of the optimists here and not just for Pollyannaish reasons but because I think there is a rational basis for hope. Firstly what you’ve got, and I think coming out of the Copenhagen experience is 184 nations now representing 95 per cent of global emissions, putting their national commitments on the table here in Paris. We didn’t have that in Copenhagen. And this idea of independent national commitments, by the way, was an Australian innovation back in 2009. So I think that has changed. I think the other thing which has changed is there is now a clear understanding there must be a robust system of measurement reporting and verification across the world so people don’t cheat, but I think the key thing, Leigh, is to see this and see it in the eyes of the world as a dynamic process. What do I mean by that? If you put together all the commitments that have been made by people so far and did the mathematics, you end up still with a temperature increased by century’s end of between 2.6 to 3.4 degrees. That’s still far too high. So what you need therefore built into this Paris agreement is a regular review mechanism, say five years, whereby the parties come back and review their commitments with the object of enhancing them and I hope and believe that that will be part of this Paris agreement. So some things have changed.

LEIGH SALES: But then what’s the consequence though if you come back in five years and you haven’t met your targets or you don’t want to tighten them?

KEVIN RUDD: Well welcome to the terrible world of international law, Leigh. Ultimately, short of dispatching troops, I mean, you’re depending on international legal frameworks and also mutual transparency also assisted by a development assistance program to the emerging economies to enable their transition to be as effective as possible. But I think the science is now disseminating. It’s no longer seen as some sort of Western conspiracy. The planet doesn’t lie. The Earth doesn’t lie. What we spoke about robustly in the science in 2009 in Australia is now not partially accepted around the world, but virtually universally accepted and therefore people are seeing the consequences in their own countries of not acting. Therefore, a combination of international agreement plus domestic imperatives of the type we just discussed with China I think is bringing about change. Do I think it’s fast enough? No. Do I think it could be a whole lot better? Of course! But, look, I’ve been around this racecourse a few times and I’m in the business of sustainable change. I think we’re pointing in the right direction.

LEIGH SALES: In terms of sustainable change, your successor as Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030. Is that realistic?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, I haven’t seen the modelling underpinning what Mr Shorten has said, either economic or climatological. I’m always on the side of an ambitious target given that we represent 1.3 per cent of global emissions and people around the world watch closely if Australia is not playing its fair share and shouldering its part of the burden. But I also note, for example, that Mr Turnbull has indicated that in terms of this five-year review period, that the Australian Government, the current Australian Government will be looking at its own carbon targets of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction against 2005 levels when we meet again in five years’ time. So, slowly but surely, we’re I think pointing in the direction of the emergence of a long-term consensus in Australia and I just wish it would hurry up along and get there.

LEIGH SALES: You bring up Malcolm Turnbull. The polls show Bill Shorten and Labor struggling to compete against Malcolm Turnbull. You’re an astute strategist. Where do you see Malcolm Turnbull’s area of political vulnerability?

KEVIN RUDD: Oh, Leigh, for goodness’ sake! I’m liberated from Australian domestic politics. I’m not about to throw my oar in there. Look, I’m concerned about the Australian national interest. On questions like climate change, I encourage both of them to put their best foot forward. Australia needs it and the world needs it. But I’m not going to provide gratuitous commentary on, you know, what Malcolm’s vulnerabilities might be or Bill’s for that matter. I just don’t think that helps.

LEIGH SALES: One final question before we let you go on global terrorism: how do you think political and community leaders should discuss it in the context of Islam? There are some people who think that there’s too much political correctness and tiptoeing around the fact that recent acts of terrorism have been committed by Muslims.

KEVIN RUDD: Look, if we’re serious about global terrorism, and as a government, when I was in office, we were, and I believe subsequent Australian governments have been as well, it’s got probably three elements to it. Number one is the truth is when we’re looking at ISIS/ISIL, you’re looking at a caliphate self-proclaimed in Syria and Iraq which frankly must be destroyed because their theological legitimacy and recruiting legitimacy is anchored in their possession of territory. So that’s one hard edge to it. The second is our own domestic intelligence services and security forces, and frankly, in this day and age, they should be given all the resources they need and I argue on balance that when it comes to the surveillance powers they have, we should always be edging at the robust end of that because the – those at play in the terrorist world are no respecter of our laws. But thirdly, it does require community leadership, both from the Muslim community and from the non-Muslim community. And it is all these things together; it’s not one silver bullet with any of the above.

LEIGH SALES: Kevin Rudd, we very much appreciate having you back on the program. Thank you for joining us.

KEVIN RUDD: Thanks, Leigh. Happy to be with you.