For over two decades global leaders have been negotiating the future of the planet on your behalf.

Way back in 1992 in Rio, world leaders agreed that global warming posed a serious risk to all living things and that greenhouse pollution must be managed. And each year since, politicians, bureaucrats, businesses, unions and community organisations have met in cities around the world to work out a deal to solve climate change.

This year, the city is Paris and the task at hand is to broker a deal that reduces pollution and prevents dangerous global warming.

Imagine this. Leaders of 150 nations, along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries crammed into a conference centre on the outskirts of Paris with one thing in mind - climate change. Most support definitive action to reduce pollution, but a few, with vested interests in profiting from oil and coal, try to slow down progress toward strong action.

Leaders of 150 nations, along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries crammed into a conference centre on the outskirts of Paris with one thing in mind - climate change.

All have come in defiance of the recent acts of terrorism in this beautiful city. Despite the seriousness of the task and the tragic events that occurred just weeks ago, there is a mood of optimism here at the talks and across the city. It seems when tragedy strikes, or in the case of climate change, disaster looms, humanity unities in shared efforts to make the world a better place.

It is against this backdrop that these talks are taking place.

In the first week, country delegates tasked with negotiating the agreement are locked away in windowless rooms making deals left, right and centre. You won’t know these people, they are unassuming and mostly dedicated diplomats whose job is to stay away from the limelight while brokering the best deal for their country.

It’s disconcerting that these unknown people are responsible for the details of the final deal that sets the targets that may determine the future of the planet. I hope and trust they regularly glance at photos of their kids and loved ones to remind themselves what they are there to do.

We are now in the second week where the French take over and work with the big guns, the Ministers and assembled government leaders, to broker the final deal. And there is still much negotiating to be done. All countries represented take their writing instructions from their head of state, in Australia’s case Prime Minister Turnbull.

The Australians are saying all the right things here in Paris. The Prime Minister talked up renewable energy and our commitment to achieving net zero pollution within the century. This is terrific to see - although we know that the science is telling us zero pollution by mid-century is what’s actually required for a safe climate.

The problem is what’s being said in Paris and what’s being done back in Australia are very different things. That disparity is thrown into sharp relief here in Paris.

Back home, the Turnbull Government has approved one of the biggest coal mines in the world, the Carmichael mine proposed by Adani in North Queensland. The pollution from this mine alone would all but wipe out the commitments Australia has made in Paris. To turn our governments’ rhetoric into action, coal needs to be phased out and replaced by renewables.

And that’s the thing about these Paris talks. In end, what is said here matters less than what happens when world leaders go back to their homes.

And that’s the thing about these Paris talks. In end, what is said here matters less than what happens when world leaders go back to their homes. Every single tonne of pollution reduced will only happen if each country turns talk into action when they get home from Paris. All countries need to phase out coal and boost renewables. The world needs its governments to build efficient buildings and transport. Everyone needs to grab hold of the future that we know is possible.

There is much good news in Paris. Many countries are making extraordinarily commitments for the future. Developing nations talk of deploying renewable energy and most remain wary of making the same mistakes we’ve made in Australian in our reliance on polluting coal. Other industrialised nations have signalled the end to coal within their borders a decade or two from today. Uruguay has announced that it has already made the shift to 95 per cent renewable energy – without higher consumer energy costs.

Massive investments are being made globally toward providing a clean future for all.

Judging by the momentum here in Paris - a future powered by renewables is coming whether our government likes it or not. Why not embrace it, prepare our country for it and deliver the future we know is possible rather than clinging to our polluting past. We have everything we need - money, technology, capability. We just need the political will.

It’s time for Australia to step up.

Let’s hope our own political leaders come back from Paris motivated by the unstoppable global momentum for a safe, just climate and hasten the renewable energy transition required in Australia.


  • This article first appeared in the Hobary Mercury

Kelly O’Shanassy

CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation.