Climate optimism on the road to Paris

30 June 2015

The road to Paris ... is better paved than the road to Copenhagen was.

Climate negotiators at the global climate conference in Paris need to work out how to balance economic growth with the need to fight global warming, climate experts have told the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum at ANU.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year aims to achieve a new binding global agreement to address climate change from 2020.

Former chief executive of GE Mining, Steve Sargent, said the great challenge for world leaders was to balance economic goals with climate goals, particularly for the 1.5 billion people in the world who still have no access to basic electricity.

"I think we need a metric that allows for economic growth while trying to improve carbon productivity," said Mr Sargent, who is a board director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

ANU Professor Warwick McKibbin said the world needed to move away from setting targets and timetables for each country, and should instead work on commitments to policies to help reach an overall target.

"What you need is a commitment that balances a target with the cost of taking action," he said.

"A unilateral single target for a country will rule out any country that doesn't know what their future looks like, particularly fast-growing economies."

ANU Adjunct Professor Howard Bamsey said he was encouraged by the evolution of the debate on climate change, which now involved developed and developing nations and which considered both the costs and the benefits of climate action.

Professor Bamsey, a former Australian Special Envoy on Climate Change and former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Climate Change, said he was more optimistic of a good outcome from Paris compared to the last global meeting in Copenhagen.

"The road to Paris ... is better paved than the road to Copenhagen was," he said. "I think we have the sequence right this time."

He said the Paris meeting needed to agree on a plan for continued improvement to tackle global warming.