Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald, December 14 edition. 

Unlike the decisions of predecessor climate conferences, the COP28 final text explicitly urges countries to make sure their next international pledges for 2035 – which nations are expected to reveal by early 2025 – are aligned with 1.5 degrees, “as informed by the latest science”.

If that call is honoured, it would represent an important ratchet upwards in ambition for many countries, including Australia, which would need at least 70 per cent reductions by 2035.

How Australia responds to that call will start to become clear when the Climate Change Authority hands down advice on targets that it is currently formulating and will also emerge as the government develops its various sector net zero plans and next national target.

References to 1.5 degrees permeate the final decision from this COP in an unprecedented way – with the text containing 13 references to it, compared with four in each of the previous two COPs (and just one in the Paris Agreement itself). But Australians know from past experience that, on the subject of climate change, it’s possible to talk about something a lot and have very little happen.

What we need to see now is action and implementation. And we need to see it from leaders in politics and business.

As we turn to that task, we are in the privileged position of knowing that access to finance, at least in Australia, is rarely an impediment to taking strong action. There is no shortage of private sector capital available to invest in climate solutions.

We are also privileged in our capacity to economically benefit from becoming a net zero economy and potentially a green energy superpower – a status that is dependent on the rapid decarbonisation of our electricity sector.

As others have noted, a key result from this COP is that it calls on the world to “transition away” from fossil fuels in energy systems. Many had wanted a decision that called for a “phase out” and stronger wording would have been better. But it’s worth pointing out that the word “transition” has always proved a powerful motivating term in the development of climate change strategies and policies.

In the corporate sector the development of a robust “transition plan” is increasingly seen as essential to ensure access to finance and to win the confidence of key stakeholders.

In a social context, the need for a “just transition” to net zero has shaped how we move to net zero, ensuring that workers and communities dependent on high-emitting industries aren’t left behind as our economy transforms.

To that influential terminology we can now add the need to “transition away” from fossil fuels – and this new use of the word will inevitably become another crucial guiding principle for Australia’s climate change response.

Notably, the Carbon Market Institute’s most recent annual survey of business attitudes to climate change showed the majority of Australian businesses want a managed fossil fuel phase-out. However, the consensus decision from this COP will increase pressure on them to show that this desire for a managed phase-out isn’t just theoretical but is something they plan to achieve.

With regard to fossil fuels the COP28 text also strengthens wording on methane – explicitly calling for countries to accelerate their efforts to reduce methane emissions by 2030.

Australia has recently joined the global pledge to reduce global methane emissions across all sectors by at least 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030. Given we are the third-largest emitter of methane in the world, this is something we must urgently address.

Disappointingly the COP28 official negotiations made little headway in building on important advances made at previous COPs on the structure and administration of international carbon markets. But important progress to boost integrity and build capacity was made on the sidelines.

In particular six major independent voluntary carbon market standards – including the widely known VERRA and Gold Standard regimes – have launched an unprecedented collaboration to boost integrity and consistency in international carbon markets.

In addition two key international organisations driving best practice standards on carbon credits integrity have come together to produce uniform decarbonisation guidance to help companies produce and use carbon credits in a credible way.

These organisations included the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative, Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Markets, We Mean Business Coalition, Climate Disclosure Project, Science Based Targets initiative and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

As we look ahead there’s plenty to build on ahead of next year’s meeting in Azerbaijan, while the next COP in the Asia-Pacific region is likely to be hosted by Australia and its Pacific partners in 2026.

As a demonstration of its desire to be a good global citizen, and to show it can effectively host an ambitious international climate conference, Australia must honour the spirit of the COP28 decision and show that it won’t take advantage of the loopholes that inevitably appear in any international climate agreement.

At COP28 the world took stock of its climate change response, found it seriously wanting, and proposed measures that could put us back on course. Now Australia needs to take action.

Dr. Kerry Schott AO is Chair of the Carbon Market Institute.

Share this page: