Next steps for Australia in tackling climate change at the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa

Campaigns and Advocacy, Climate Change, Opinion article written on the 14 Dec 2011

Reverend Tafue Lusama from the pacific nation of Tuvalu knows a thing or two about climate change. Growing up, his grandfather and father used to teach him about the shift from one season to the other, and how it affects the movement of the fish in the sea from place to place. Now it’s all different. Changing weather patterns mean it’s getting harder to catch fish.

In October, severe water shortages crippled the country. Saltwater seeping into underground supplies of fresh water and a lack of rainfall meant schools and hospitals were shut down, water was rationed and bottled water was flown in from Australia and New Zealand. Taro, a traditional staple is now harder to grow due to saltwater intrusion.

In Africa, location of this year’s UN Climate Summit, severe climate events are also impacting on people’s ability to grow food. More than 13 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are facing desperate food shortages following the worst drought in 60 years.

At the summit in Durban, world leaders, environment ministers and senior diplomats will meet to discuss solutions to deal with climate change. I, along with Reverend Tafue and hundreds of young people, environmentalists, church leaders and NGO representatives from around the world, will also be in Durban. Together we will call on governments to take urgent action to tackle climate change.

Building on the momentum of passing the carbon price legislation, the Australian Government can take some important next steps.

The first step is to ensure that the Green Climate Fund – agreed to at last year’s UN Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico, to assist developing countries deal with climate change – is up and running by 2012. It must be designed to help poor people, particularly women, in developing countries.

Poor people in developing countries are being hit first and worst by changing weather patterns. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights the link between extreme weather and global warming. Whilst we can’t yet say that any particular flood, bushfire or cyclone was caused purely by climate change, the IPCC report does show that increases and intensification of some extreme weather events are likely to occur in the future as a result of climate change.

The IPCC report also showed that between 1970-2008, more than 95 per cent of natural-disaster-related deaths occurred in developing countries.

Poor people in developing countries often lack the resources to deal with extreme weather events. So the Green Climate Fund must assist poor people adapt to the changing climate whilst also developing along low carbon pathways.

The world is committed to provide $US100 billion per year by 2020 to the Green Climate Fund. Sadly, the fund is still close to empty.

At the last round of climate talks in Panama, I listened to many countries discuss the need for new ways to finance the fight against climate change. A financial transaction tax, or ‘Robin Hood Tax’, and a small charge on global shipping emissions, are two innovative ideas that Australia can support at Durban.

A tiny 0.05 per cent tax on certain financial transactions (such as derivatives, bonds and currency trades), could raise billions of dollars a year to tackle climate change and poverty. Importantly, it would also help stabilise markets by limiting speculation.

Meanwhile, a small charge on global shipping emissions, supported by Germany, France and South Africa, is the other idea making waves on the journey to Durban. A report by the World Bank and the IMF proposes a charge of US$25 per ton of emissions. This could raise US$26 billion per year, of which US$13 billion could be used to tackle climate change. A charge on shipping emissions would also reduce emissions from the industry by 5-10 per cent per year.

Another important step is keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive. As the only legally binding agreement which commits rich countries to reduce emissions, Kyoto is the bed-rock of international efforts to tackle climate change. Australia needs to support an extension of Kyoto as a stepping-stone towards a fair, ambitious and binding global climate agreement.
Any agreement must ensure poor countries avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

As the recent International Energy Authority report highlights, the world is currently slipping off the path to meet the below 2 degree target set in Copenhagen two years ago. This means wealthy developed countries must take action to reduce carbon emissions to levels that are based on the science. Australia is planning on cutting emissions by at least 5 per cent by 2020 on 2000 levels. The IPCC recommends developed countries reduce emissions by between 25 per cent – 40 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels.

The IPCC also warns that sectors that are closely linked to the climate and Australia’s prosperity — like water, agriculture, tourism, health and food security — will be severely affected. Acting on climate change is in our national interest. It will also ensure that Reverend Tafue and the people of Tuvalu can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Clancy Moore is blogging from the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa (November 28th – December 9th) as part Oxfam’s UN Climate Tracker project.

You can follow his blogs at (

This opinion editorial was first published on Online Opinion on 30 November 2011.