Dr. Peter Burdon

University of Adelaide.

Second Round Update Report, November 19, 2015

For first round report see at the end of this article

1. Identify the most recent national commitment on reducing ghg emissions (INDCs) made by the country and the date on which it was made.

Australia has committed to cut ghg emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2030. According to Climate Action Tracker: “this target is equivalent to a range of around 5% below to 5% above 1990 levels of GHG emissions excluding LULUCF in the year 2030.” The commitment was made in August 2015.

2. Given that any national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on an atmospheric ghg concentration that will avoid dangerous climate change, to what extent has the nation expressly identified an atmospheric ghg level target goal or a warming limit that its INDC is designed to achieve and is it possible to quantitatively examine how the ghg emission target links quantitatively to an atmospheric ghg concentration or carbon budget?

In April 2015 the government published a key issues paper entitled “Setting Australia’s post-2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions.” The paper came under sustained criticism for its reluctance to acknowledge the target of keeping global warming below 2C. Fortunately this target was acknowledged in Australia’s INDC submission. This brought the governments position back into line with the two Garnaut Reviews on Climate Change which recognised the importance of keeping ghg emissions to 450 ppm of CO2.
3. Given that any national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on what ethics, justice and equity requires of it, to what extent has the nation expressly identified the justice or equity basis that it has considered in determining a ghg emissions reduction target percentage level?


Australian governments have frequently used the language of justice and equity when explaining national ghg targets. However, as indicated in my original report, these arguments have always focused on national concerns. This language is repeated in Australia’s INDC contribution statement. Moreover, the document accentuates what the government considers “ambitious”, “reasonable” and “fair”. Tellingly, these verbs are only supported with reference to Australia’s previous 2020 targets (an internal comparison) and not with broader principles of equity and justice. Thus, while the government claims that their contribution is “squarely in the middle of comparable economies” independent analysis has argued that they are actually towards “the bottom of the pack of comparable countries, on key indicators.” The latter view is also supported by independent analysis from groups like Climate Action Tracker which have labelled Australia’s contribution ‘inadequate’.

4. To what extent, if any, has the national debate about the nation’s INDC considered or acknowledged that the nation not only has economic interests in setting its ghg target but also ethical obligations to those who are most vulnerable to climate change?


I have provided background to this question in the original report. Recently, the public conversation in Australia has engaged with calls from pacific island leaders for a moratorium on new coal mine development. This call was formalized in the Suva Declaration on Climate Change which was signed in November at the Pacific Islands Development Forum Summit of Leaders in Suva. The declaration reads:

We, the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Development Forum;
6. Express grave concern that the continued increase in the production of fossil fuels, particularly the construction of new coal mines, undermines efforts to reduce global GHG emissions and the goal of decarbonising the global economy.

We therefore call for…

g. a new global dialogue on the implementation of an international moratorium on the development and expansion of fossil fuel extracting industries, particularly the construction of new coal mines, as an urgent step towards decarbonising the global economy.

Despite the link between Australia’s coal industry and climate change impacts on pacific countries, leaders from Australia’s two major political parties have refused to sign the declaration. During a trip to Kiribati in November, the opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten declared: “I had long conversations with leaders of the Pacific nations about the future of fossil fuels and I made it very clear Labor is not going to stop coal mining.”

The former Prime Minster Tony Abbott made explicit ethical arguments in favour of coal production, noting: “”Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world.” The current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has distanced himself from these remarks but he also rejected calls for a moratorium on new coal mines, saying that if Australia stopped its coal exports it would not change global emissions “one iota.” Turnbull further justified his stance with reference to the 2015 International Energy Agency’s World Energy Report which says that coal will be a primary part of the energy mix, and will also have to power substantial back-up capacity for alternative energy.

On the 18th of November 2015 the Turnbull government agreed to cut funding dirty coal-fired electricity by billions of dollars. The agreement, backed by 34 wealthy countries, is expected to give a boost to the United Nations climate. Leaked documents seen by Fairfax Media showed Australia had opposed a US-Japan deal and watered down the agreement to large “supercritical” coal plants.

5. To what extent have NGOs or other major participants engaged in climate change policy formation at the national level examined the national INDC from an ethics, justice, or equity perspective?

Australian NGO’s frequently employ the language of ethics and justice in discussions concerning Australia’s responsibility for climate change. However, to the best of my knowledge, no Australian NGO has analysed our INDC from this perspective. The Climate Change Authority (independent agency established by the Climate Change Authority Act 2011) criticised Australia’s INDC and advocated for a scientifically informed, globally equitable emissions target for Australia of between 40-60% below a 2000 baseline by 2030. As suggested, the Authority sought to based this figure on pure science and did not expressly describe any ethical concepts that informed their analysis.


6. To what extent has the national media covered issues concerning the national INDC with respect to ethical, justice, and equity issues?

There has been very little media coverage in Australia directly focused on our INDC contribution. Coverage that was published did not focus on ethics, justice or equity. Instead, the dominant narratives for analysis focused on:
• Whether the INDC contributed to keeping temperature increases to 2 degrees;
• How our INDC compared with other industrialised countries;
• Whether Australia’s contribution will render us to the fringe of climate talks and not able to exert influence; and
• The extent to which the INDC was consistent with popular opinion and climate change and the urgency in mitigating warming.


7. Before any nation may adopt an INDC or climate policy it often has to satisfy national economic interests. Yet many nations fail to disclose the national economic interests that have actually affected the lack of aggressiveness of the national INDC when commitments are made under the UNFCCC. Given this, what is known about the actual basis for the aggressiveness of the national INDC?

The government has not described a direct link between our INDC and national economic interests. However, the conversation is frequently framed either in defence of coal or with respect to the inadequacies of renewable energy. For example, Sam Wells, the chief executive of Rio Tinto has argued: “coal is going to be needed for 50 years or more and for those of you who feel that thermal coal is not the way we should be going, I just hope you sit at night with a candle as you try to read your newspaper or read whatever.” Wells noted further: “for those of you who think that well solar is going to the job or wind power is going to do the job or hydro is going to the job – you really need to wake up to that and realise that, yes, they certainly play their part but certainly for the long term it is going to have to be combination of energy sources to meet our needs.”

The confidence with which industry makes such comments is backed by numerous reports that forecast demand for coal will remain strong. As noted above, the International Energy Agency found national pledges to cut carbon emissions ahead of Paris would result in a sharp increase in use of renewable sources of energy by 2030. However, the same analysis said global demand for energy from developing countries meant “coal-fired power generation capacity declines only slightly” and the share of fossil fuels in the “world energy mix declines but is still around 75 per cent.”


8. What formal mechanisms are available in the nation for citizens, NGOs and other interested organizations to question/contest the nation’s ethical position on climate change?

Australia has similar participatory mechanisms as other western democracies. The traditional green and white paper mechanisms, exposure drafts of legislation, focus groups and surveys are familiar ways of gathering citizens’ views about particular initiatives. On legislative or policy matters affecting citizens at large, plebiscites may also be used. Sometimes, where policies have a particular impact on certain categories of citizens, governments go to considerable lengths to consult with the affected target groups and those who defend their interests. Nevertheless, it remains generally the case that governments define the issues for consultation, set the questions and manage the process.


9. Are you aware of any regional, state, provincial, or local governments in your country that has acknowledged ethical responsibility for climate change? If so, what have they said?

A number of Australian cities have shown significant leadership on tackling climate change. For example, the Austrian Capital Territory (ACT) government has a legislated target to reduce its emissions by 40% by 2020 and source 90% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The City of Sydney has achieved carbon neutrality in its operations and has a 100% by 2030 local electricity generation target. Other major cities, including Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide all aim to achieve zero net emissions by 2020.

This work has been championed by a number of city Lord Mayors who have advocated climate action. For example, Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor of Sydney attended the Copenhagen Climate talks in 2009, supported the introduction of carbon pricing in Australia and has championed the City of Sydney’s plan to reduce greenhouse emissions, “Sustainable Sydney 2030”. Commenting on the need for climate action Clover Moore writes: “With a warming of two degrees — and projections show we are headed for a four to six degree change — we risk catastrophic climate change…Sydney is moving towards a more sustainable future, climate change demands we do more.” Moreover, in September South Australia launched a new strategy to decarbonise its economy and has set a goal for Adelaide to become the first carbon neutral city in the world.


10. Has your national government taken any position on or otherwise encouraged individuals, businesses, organizations, subnational governments, or other entities that they have an ethical duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

My original report detailed a number of government policies directed at individuals, business and organisation. In large part, this strategy has attempted to direct responsibility away from carbon intensive industry and government and toward the individual or households. More recently, the Government held its first reverse auction of emissions-reduction projects as part of its Direction Action Plan. Using A$660 million drawn from the A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), the government purchased 47.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Federal environment minister Greg Hunt described the outcome as a “stunning result” for Australia, pointing out that the average price of A$13.95 per tonne of carbon is cheaper than the previous government’s carbon pricing scheme. However, independent analysis suggests that the reverse auction is “54 million tonnes (or about 23%) short of Australia’s overall target.”


11. What recommendations would you make to get the nation or civil society in the country to take ethics and justice issues seriously in climate change policy formulation?

See original report.

For Developed Nations.


12. For developed nations, identify the most recent national commitment, if any, the nation has made on funding adaptation or losses and damages in vulnerable countries?

Australia will contribute A$200m to the UN Green Climate Fund. The former Labor government was an early donor, tipping in $500,000 in 2012 to help get the fund going, as well as almost $600m on a precursor “fast-start” fund. Australia and South Africa have also been elected as co-chairs to the fund. The case has been made that Australia should have pledged more and the contribution to the fund were taken directly from the foreign aid budget. In other words, no new money was allocated to help developing countries that are currently suffering the effects of climate change. Since the government seems to be making clear that there will be no major change to Australia’s climate policy until 2017 we cannot expect funding to increase anytime soon.


13. For developed nations, did your nation acknowledge any ethical or justice based responsibility for making a commitment on funding adaptation or losses and damages in vulnerable countries?

Statements from government have been framed with reference to private sector growth. Implicit in these statements is that it is ethical to grow an economy and the market provides the most efficient mechanism to lift people out of poverty. For example, when announcing Australia’s original contribution to the Green Climate Fund, Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister stated: “Our pledge to the Green Climate Fund will facilitate private sector-led economic growth in our region … with a particular focus on investment, infrastructure, energy, forestry and emissions reductions.”
14. Have NGOs or the media in your nations identified or discussed the potential obligations of high-emitting nations to fund adaptation or losses and damages in poor vulnerable nations?

Australian NGO’s are far less constrained than government to talk about the obligations of high emitters, climate debt and climate justice. These views will also be reported in state and national news papers. To take just one example, in October 2014 the Australian Youth Climate Coalition hosted the Pacific Climate Warriors. While in Australia, over 200 participants hopped in kayaks to block outgoing coal ships in Horseshoe Bay beach, Newcastle.




1   Australia’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to a new Climate Change Agreement

2 See

3 Setting Australia’s post-2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions

4 Graham Readfearn, ‘Australia’s blind spots on the road to Paris climate deal’

5 Garnaut Climate Change Review

6 ABC News, ‘Government says its new climate change target is good for jobs, environment’

7 Frank Jotzo, ‘Australia’s 2030 climate target puts us in the race, but at the bac’

8 See

9 Suva Declaration on Climate Change,

10 Tom Arup, ‘Bill Shorten refuses to back Pacific island calls for moratorium on new coal mines’

11 Coal ‘good for humanity’, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says at $3.9b Queensland mine opening

12 Tom Arup, ‘Bill Shorten refuses to back Pacific island calls for moratorium on new coal mines’

13 See

14 Adam Morton, ‘Turnbull government accused of blocking US, Japan plan to reduce coal

15 Adam Morton, ‘Australia backs down on coal stand-off’

16 There are, of course, statements from individuals. For example, Anita Talberg from the Australian German Climate and Energy College at University of Melbourne: Australia has one of the highest emissions rate per head of population (as can be seen on the graph below). This means that Australia has produced a lot of historical emissions to get rich.” See further, Australia’s post-2020 climate target not enough to stop 2C warming: experts

17 Climate Change Authority’s-2020-and-2030-goals

18 See Government to unveil plans to cut carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2030 and Ian Dunlop and Rob Sturrock, ‘Too little, too late: Australia still missing from serious climate change debate:

19James Chessell, ‘Lots of heat expected but climate talks must balance equally conflicting needs’

20 Ibid.


22 Charlottie Wood and Matthew Rimmer, ‘Think global, act local: the role for councils in climate change’

23 Clover Moore, ‘Mayor Clover Moore: Why Sydney’s sustainable future is bright’ CNN, 6 September,

24 Oliver Milman, ‘Adelaide joins race to become world’s first carbon neutral city’

25 Explainer: how does today’s Direct Action reverse auction work?

26 Emission Reduction Fund: Government purchases 47 million tonnes of carbon abatement in first auction

27 Peter Christoff, ‘On these numbers, Australia’s emissions auction won’t get the job done’

28 Climate change: Julie Bishop announces Australia’s,

29 See Peter Burdon, ‘Australia’s $200 million climate pledge falls short of its true debt’ and Jonathan Pickering, ‘UN Green Climate Fund: it’s time for Australia to step up’

30 Climate change: Julie Bishop announces Australia’s $200 million contribution to UN Green Climate Fund

31 Direct Action destined to fail even with low Paris pledge, Climate Institute says

First Round Report

The first round of this report on Australia is included in new book that has been published by the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, Ethics Specialist Group which also contains project reports on the United States, Canada,  New Zealand, Netherlands, Russia, China,  South AfricakSouth Korea, Kenya, Italy, Japan, Bolivia, Thailand, and Uganda. The book is free and downloadable at

The book is:

Ethics and Climate Change

A Study of National Commitments

book climate justice

Electronic copies are free for download here.


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