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  • In November 2021, at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention, Australia’s failure to join the Glasgow pledges to cut methane emissions and phase out coal, failure to submit a stronger target while other countries revised theirs, and failure to redirect fossil fuel subsidies, were generally viewed as undermining its efforts to cooperate.
  • Meanwhile, in domestic courtrooms around the world, a question is brewing, and it was one of the hottest legal topics this year: when domestic governance is weak, what role do local courts play in addressing the climate crisis?
  • Two recent and noteworthy Australian cases, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action Inc v Environment Protection Authority and Sharma v Minister for the Environment, show the interplay between the separation of powers in limiting courts’ reach vis-à-vis the executive, and the rule of law requiring government actors to be held accountable to their legal obligations.

All eyes were on Glasgow last month, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison presented Australia’s new net-zero by mid-century commitment at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention. The commitment supplements Australia’s pledge to reduce emissions, economy-wide, by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is the accord presently in force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Unlike its main predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement allows parties to choose their own ‘level of ambition.’ Collectively, the goal is to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5-2°C above preindustrial levels. But the Paris Agreement is not prescriptive in how this should be achieved between nations. Accordingly, Australia has no binding obligation to mitigate emissions to a specific level. Rather, it self-determines what is ‘fair in light of national circumstances.’ This means it can choose both a level of ambition and an equity paradigm in support of that ambition.

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