The Copenhagen aftermath

While the Copenhagen climate summit last month was roundly criticised for not delivering a binding global agreement to limit emissions, major polluters did at least agree to “hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius”.

Warming of 2 degrees could still have devastating impacts on climate, ecosystems, human health and infrastructure, as well as substantially increasing the risk of extinction for 20-30% of species and bleaching most of the world’s coral reefs.

Over 2 degrees, the impacts risk are likely to include reduced food production, hundreds of millions of people having less access to fresh water, the loss of a third of coastal wetlands, and large-scale forced migration.

Others argue that even 2 degrees is too much. In Copenhagen, Tuvalu formally proposed, on behalf of small island states, that countries sign up to a new legally binding agreement that would keep atmospheric warming below 1.5 degrees.

Either way, the Copenhagen Accord places our Prime Minister in a difficult position. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is expected to go back to parliament again in February. The government’s unconditional target is for a 5% reduction in emissions by 2020 relative to the 1990 level.

However, to meet our commitment under the Accord, Australia would probably need to cut emissions by at least 25% by 2020. Meanwhile, Mr Rudd and Senator Wong have been repeatedly saying that Australia would do “no more, and no less” than other countries.

It is unlikely that China, India or other developing nations will agree to cuts of this magnitude. This is reasonable, given that the problem is largely one that wealthy Western nations have created, and their emissions are still only a fraction of ours on a per capita basis. Nevertheless, most fast-growing developing nations accept that they will have to take steps to reduce their ballooning emissions, although some are still reluctant to nominate caps and targets.

To discuss how international negotiations and Australia’s climate change legislation might develop after Copenhagen, the Environmental Defender’s Office is holding a series of seminars during February. Speakers include a Copenhagen attendee. Topics include the prospects now for a binding global agreement, the implications for Australia’s CPRS, alternatives proposed by the Coalition and the Greens, and recent and current court cases involving carbon emissions and protests.

The Ballina seminar is free and will be held from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, February 10, in the Richmond Room, Regatta Ave. No booking is necessary, and light refreshments will be provided.

Please note that the science supporting anthropogenic climate change will NOT be discussed.

Mark Byrne is education officer at the EDO Northern Rivers. For information or help about this or any other environmental law issue, phone 1300 369 791 or call

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