The Honourable Penny Wong, Senator for South Australia and Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Water, visited NYU School of Law September 21, 2009 to discuss the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The event, hosted by the Frank J. Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law and the Environmental Law Society, gave students and faculty a chance to hear first hand Australia’s plan for an international political agreement to fight climate change.
In preparation for December’s Copenhagen conference, where the United Nations hoped to come to an agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, Wong, Australia’s first Minister for Climate Change and Water, introduced a plan that would allow nations to construct a climate change plan that fits their national circumstances within the framework of an overarching agreement. The plan would move away from the strict compliance regime of the Kyoto Protocol, hoping to reach a strong environmental outcome while permitting flexibility of actions over time, allowing for the unique conditions each nation faces, and supporting a range of solutions. “A sound vehicle will steer us toward broad participation and strong ambition,” said Wong, who was in New York for the Secretary-General’s High Level Meeting on Climate Change at the United Nations General Assembly this week. “A flawed vehicle will drive countries away from global cooperation.”
Under Australia’s proposed plan, nations would utilize “national schedules” to come to a world-wide agreement, which could be renegotiated to become more environmentally effective over time. A schedule might include plans for emissions targets, reducing deforestation, and developing clean energy. “Commitments won’t be one-size-fits-all,” said Wong. “They will be differentiated, and the actions countries take to fulfill those commitments will be varied in nature, reflecting different national circumstances.” The schedules will help in negotiations, allowing developing countries to ease themselves into the climate change fight, while developed countries would be expected to set more ambitious economy-wide emission reduction targets. This approach, according to Wong, is compatible with a number of other major official proposals submitted to the U.N. “Ideally, each country would put forward its own draft national schedule [in advance of Copenhagen],” said Wong. “The international community could examine schedules to determine if efforts were sufficiently ambitious, and if not, call for and negotiate increased efforts.”
After her speech, Wong fielded questions from faculty and students during a discussion led by Adjunct Professor Jacob Werksman, who is also the director of the Institutions and Governance Program at the World Resources Institute. Wong reiterated the importance of reaching an agreement in Copenhagen. “This is where the role of leaders is so important,” she said. “This agreement absolutely can be done. It’s a question of whether people have the political will to cut that deal.”