We, a group of former Australian diplomats, call on Australia to increase its ambition in foreign, trade and development policy to meet the challenge of climate change.
Climate change is a global existential threat facing humanity, and an immediate national security threat facing Australia.
Through the Paris Agreement, the world, including Australia, has agreed that all governments and peoples must work together to address this threat and to secure a safe, habitable planet for our descendants and future life, by limiting the global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.
In December 2021, we proposed a framework to integrate climate action into Australia’s foreign policy. Since then, we have welcomed progress by Australia in a number of these areas, including legislating a more ambitious emissions reduction target by 2030, steps towards transitioning Australia’s electricity grid to renewable energy and to reduce industrial emissions, and a policy to decarbonise the transport sector. Ambitious domestic action on climate change is the minimum requirement for Australia to gain credibility internationally to pursue our foreign, security, economic and development goals.
We welcome Australia’s increased participation in global efforts, including the Global Methane Pledge, the International Mangrove Alliance for Climate, the Joint Declaration on the creation of a Global Coalition for Blue Carbon, and the Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership. We also welcome Australia’s support for the loss and damage fund proposed at COP27 and for the UN General Assembly resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the international legal issues around climate change and climate damage. We support Australia’s stated wish to co-host, with Pacific island countries, a Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
For Australia to complete the work of integrating climate action into every aspect of its domestic and foreign policy, we call on the Government to take the following actions:
1. Develop a policy framework for a significantly more ambitious 2035 emissions reduction commitment
Building on existing policy, the Government must further increase its climate ambition. In particular, if Australia is to co-host a UN COP, it must demonstrate it is not only back on board with global climate action, but that it is willing to lead the world’s ambition.
2. Assist communities in Australia and the region to transition from reliance on fossil fuels to renewables
Many of our small island development partners in the Indo-Pacific depend heavily on imported fossil fuels for their energy and transport needs. A focus within the Australian development program on assisting them to reduce this dependence will support their economic independence and security, as well as cementing Australia’s position as their economic and security partner of choice. A program to replace costly imported fossil fuels with locally generated clean energy will have a significant impact on the economic independence and financial health of developing countries in our region.
3. Double Australia’s contribution to international climate finance to assist our most vulnerable development partners to adapt to the impacts of climate change
Climate change is not only a future threat but a present reality and nowhere is this reality felt more acutely than in the small island states of our region. Larger developing countries in our region are also facing serious threats from climate change and Australia, with other developed countries, needs to assist them to adapt to the impacts, and to accelerate their transition to low-carbon economies. The World Bank estimates around US$100 billion will be needed to transition developing economies to clean energy. The UN thinks developing countries will, by 2030, need up to US$300 billion a year for adaptation.
In view of the significant and increasing demands on Australia’s development assistance budget and the reductions it has suffered over many years, we urge the Government to make this contribution additional to the existing aid budget.
Sea level rise may create existential risk for small island developing states, so we call on the Australian government also to offer an orderly safe-refuge permanent migration pathway for affected people whose homelands become uninhabitable due to climate change.
4. Fulfil Australia’s G20 commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, adequately tax fossil fuel extraction, and intensify efforts to develop export industries for a decarbonised world economy
Australia, with other G20 countries, committed to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies in 2009. Since then, eight G20 countries have submitted to OECD-led reviews of their fossil fuel subsidies. Australia is not one of them. We urge the Government to review its domestic and international subsidies for fossil fuels with a view to phasing them out and re-allocating its scarce taxpayer resources to the clean energy transition, particularly in fossil-fuel dependent regional and remote communities. To this end, Australia should sign the Glasgow Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition.
Australia is a major fossil fuel producing country, yet taxes fossil fuel extraction very lightly compared to other major producers. Ensuring the taxation system captures a fairer share of the revenue from fossil fuel extraction will provide more funding for the energy transformation as well as social programs, while providing a strong incentive for resource companies to decarbonise, including by shifting their investments to other resources that will be needed in a net zero emissions economy.
Australia’s potential to produce cheap and abundant renewable energy presents a significant export opportunity as global markets increasingly demand climate-friendly products. Australia’s significant land carbon potential and mega-diverse native ecosystems present an opportunity to develop a land carbon industry, based on high quality, high integrity carbon credits, that can create regional employment while protecting and restoring our environment.
5. Invest in new technologies and innovation not only to decarbonise but also to start to drawdown harmful gases from the atmosphere
We strongly support Australia’s commitment to net zero by 2050, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that, in order to minimise the harmful impacts of global heating, we will also need to draw greenhouse gases down from the atmosphere. Australia has the institutional structures and innovative culture to take advantage of this need in developing technologies and expertise that will help the world to achieve this.
6. Work across the parliament and the community to embed ambitious climate action into every aspect of Australian policy, the economy and society
We acknowledge the complexity of climate change and of the policy changes needed to achieve an ambitious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We have loyally served Australian governments of all political complexions through complex and challenging circumstances where our security and prosperity have required policy courage and ingenuity. We stand ready to work with the Government to contribute to the whole of society transition needed to achieve our climate goals.
We urge the Australian government to work with state and territory governments, business, academics, civil society organisations and communities to embed climate action into every aspect of policy and society. Such an endeavour should normalise respect for the deep knowledge of First Nations Peoples in caring for the environment; respect the rights of future generations to enjoy a habitable, healthy, safe and biodiverse planet; and appreciate that our actions in addressing this global challenge are important for the whole world.