ABC AM Program, Lima - interview with Chris Uhlmann

  • Transcript, E&OE

CHRIS UHLMANN The march towards global action on climate change faulted in December 2009 in Copenhagen, when the world couldn't agree on a common path. One of the consequences here was that it helped to bring down a Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The Coalition built its resurgence on a hard-line stance against Labor's economy-wide price on carbon emissions.

This week in Peru, countries are gathering to try and get international negotiations back on track and settled on large cuts to emissions beyond 2020. The timetable is to seal a deal in Paris bY the end of next year. Australia has two representatives at the table – Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, and the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, joins us from Lima.

Good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning, how are you?

CHRIS UHLMANN Good. Julie Bishop, why has the Government decided to commit $200 million to a climate fund the Prime Minister once derided as 'socialism masquerading as environmentalism'?

JULIE BISHOP I am in Lima because we believe it's important for there to be a credible global response to climate change at the Paris Meeting in 2015 and this is a milestone event designed to ensure that countries do sign up to an agreement that can be implemented back in their home countries.

So, we are deeply engaged in this global response to climate change. We're doing this through our direct action program, our international engagement at events such as this and through our aid program and I believe that Australia has a strong track record in delivering on climate finance and in helping our developing country partners reduce their emissions and build resilience to climate related shocks and impacts in ways that support economic growth.

So, I came here, I was briefed by our negotiating team who have been here for over a week now and I spoke with the Prime Minister and he decided that we would announce at the Climate Finance Ministers Meeting, that Australia will pledge a contribution of A$200 million over four years to the Green Climate Fund…

CHRIS UHLMANN And it's coming out of the foreign aid budget.

JULIE BISHOP Yes, indeed, which is where we had been utilising funding to help countries build their infrastructure, their energy efficiency, forestry initiatives and emissions reductions.

So, our pledge to the Green Climate Fund will facilitate private sector-led economic growth in our region – the Indo-Pacific – it will be targeted in our region with a particular focus on investment in infrastructure, energy, forestry and the like which is what our aid program does in any event.

CHRIS UHLMANN Ok. But you said in the past that climate change funding should not be disguised as foreign aid funding.

JULIE BISHOP What we were talking about then was when Labor would dump millions of dollars into a multilateral fund and have no control over where it went, in which regions it was spent. What we are doing is targeting this funding into our region where our aid program is operating and doing the sorts of things that are in accordance with the new aid principles that we have applied to our $5 billion a year aid budget. So, this is targeted, sensible, logical funding and Australia is on the board of the Green Climate Fund and so we'll be able to implement our pledge in the way we anticipate.

CHRIS UHLMANN Okay. It's being reported that the Trade Minister's saying Australia will walk away from any climate change agreements if it puts the nation at a competitive disadvantage. Is that your view?

JULIE BISHOP Of course Australia will be taking on international commitments that we know we can deliver. We do what we say, that's our track record, and we expect the same of others. That's why our negotiating team is here to determine that the major emitters and, indeed, our trading competitors and our trading partners will likewise commit to real action on climate change. Australia should not and will not go this alone.

CHRIS UHLMANN Are you arguing that developed and developing countries should have the same conditions applied and they should be transparent when it comes to climate change negotiations?

JULIE BISHOP We're absolutely calling for transparency in climate change negotiations and in the commitments that countries are expected to make in the lead up to the Paris discussions for the Paris agreement in 2015 and we believe…

CHRIS UHLMANN And that developed and developing countries should be treated the same way?

JULIE BISHOP I was coming to that. We believe that this old divide between developed and developing countries does not reflect economic reality. To say that China is a developing country when it in fact has the largest economy in the world and dwarfs many other developed countries, shows that this binary differentiation is not appropriate in this day and age. So, we are calling on that developing/developed differentiation to cease and to look at the actual economic circumstances of each country.

CHRIS UHLMANN Doesn't that jeopardise the talks, because that's always been part of the talks, that the countries that manage to get their economies to a state now where they are developed actually are responsible for most of the emissions and the developing countries had a right to catch up?

JULIE BISHOP We must move past an approach that puts a brake on meaningful action to one based on global cooperation in line with countries' evolving national circumstances and capacities and Australia believes that the Paris agreement must take differing national policy approaches into account. So, that's the line that we're running and it's receiving a lot of support here.

And of course China recently – even though it is still defined as a developing country – China recently made a significant announcement with the United States about its post-2020 emission reduction plans and we're looking forward to further information on these plans when contributions are formally communicated next year.

CHRIS UHLMANN It hasn't agreed to signing up to something that's transparent and verifiable, though, has it?

JULIE BISHOP Well, we're still working on that. There are still days to go in the negotiations here at Lima and then throughout 2015 in the lead-up to Paris there will be continuing negotiations.So, we want to see an agreement that sets basic multilateral rules to underpin transparent action and ensure that countries live up to their commitments. This is critical for Australia, but it will also be the hallmark of a deal that will bring the globe to the signing table in Paris.

Now, Australians are practical people. We're committed to delivering our targets through practical, direct action that reduces emissions but still delivers sustained economic growth, particularly jobs growth. That's important for Australia.

CHRIS UHLMANN Now, is Australia trying to negotiate the removal of a specific temperature degree limit from future climate change agreements, because the current one is two degrees of warming?

JULIE BISHOP No, Australia hasn't been negotiating that issue. It's hardly been mentioned here. We've been focusing on the detail of a strong, effective and legally binding agreement in Paris.

Now, the controversy is about whether or not it should be legally binding. There are some countries who will refuse to be involved if it is legally binding, so we have to balance whether we would rather have those countries at the signing table or will we insist on the agreement being legally binding.So we're working around the clock with other parties to secure an agreement that countries will not only sign up to in Paris but they will actually implement when they get home.

CHRIS UHLMANN Finally, and just briefly, when will Australia announce what its targets will be beyond 2020?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister announced yesterday that a taskforce has been established in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to consider a post-2020 target for Australia to bring to Paris. That taskforce will consider our international emissions reductions targets and settings and take into account action by the major economies and our key trading partners. We intend to announce our targets by mid-2015 and well in advance of the Paris meeting in December 2015.

CHRIS UHLMANN Foreign Minister, thank you.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

CHRIS UHLMANN And a note on that interview, the Prime Minister's office has been in contact to say that Tony Abbott has never described the UN Green Climate Fund and 'socialism masquerading as environmentalism.'

Media enquiries