Online Article

By Anita Talberg. Originally published in The Conversation on November 27, 2015, 3:04pm AEDT.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has proposed an emissions reduction target of 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, based on recommendations from the government’s climate change policy advisory body, the Climate Change Authority. Shorten has also pledged zero net emissions by 2050, and ongoing reviews of the target.

In its review, the Climate Change Authority recommended that Australia adopt a target of between 40% and 60% by 2030 on 2000 levels.

Converting this to the 2005 baseline gives a target of around -44% to -63% on 2005 levels. So Labor’s target would match the very weakest within the Climate Change Authority’s range.

We plugged this target into our interactive webtool. The website allows the effectiveness of climate pledges from G20 countries to be assessed using different assumptions of what is a “fair” distribution of emissions reduction efforts.

What we found was that, first, Labor’s proposed 2030 target meets the Climate Change Authority’s recommended 2025 target of -30% below 2000 levels, as you can see in the chart below.

Second, Labor’s target may or may not be sufficient to keep the world within 2C, depending on what you consider a fair distribution of emissions between nations. Let’s unpack that a little more.

Most people agree that globally we should be striving for equal emissions per person. However, there are two broad views on how to get there:

  • Either we acknowledge historic emissions and “punish” those countries that have used a disproportionate amount in the past
  • Or we ignore past emissions and all countries strive for equal-per-capita emissions from now until some point in the future.

Under the latter option, Labor’s proposed target is sufficient to give the world a 67% chance of staying within 2C (see image below). This assumes that Australia adopts Labor’s target and all other countries match the effort of the target by using the same formula for calculating equal per-capita emissions.

However, if historic emissions are included we assume that because Australia has one of the highest per-capita emissions in the world it has a responsibility to reduce its emissions more rapidly and severely. Using this approach, Labor’s target does not do enough (see image below).

Here, again, we are assuming that Australia adopts Labor’s target and all other countries follow suit in a way that takes into account historic emissions and aims for equal, cumulative per-capita emissions. There is of course no guarantee that this will happen.

Essentially, Labor’s proposal improves on Australia’s current target of 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 and this is one step in the right direction. However, to be considered a good global citizen by factoring in past emissions as well as future emissions, Australia would need to commit to the tighter end of the Climate Change Authority’s target and do even more.

In fact, a target of -64% on 2005 levels by 2030 is what would be needed.

For more information on how to understand and use the mitigation-contributions website see this Briefing Note.

Yann Robiou du Pont


With the Paris Agreement, the international community has agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 °C and to pursue efforts to stay below 1.5 °C (UNFCCC 2015a) to avoid dangerous climate impacts. Staying within these boundaries requires important emissions mitigation efforts from all countries (Rogelj et al 2015). Equitable distribution across countries of mitigation efforts, or equivalently of emissions rights, consistent with global mitigation objectives is a contentious issue that involves divergent interpretations of distributive justice (Winkler and Rajamani 2014a). The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report categorises equity approaches from the scientific literature in five groups (Clarke et al 2014). At climate negotiations, most countries tend to support the approach that requires the least efforts on their behalf (Fleurbaey et al 2014, Lange et al 2010). With the absence of consensus on an effort-sharing approach, current negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) follow a self-interested, or ‘bottom-up’, approach to target setting (Andresen 2015, Bodansky 2016) where each country decides its own effort following its understanding of fairness. As a result, the sum of all parties’ announced contributions is not consistent with limiting global warming to 2 °C, let alone 1.5 °C (Rogelj et al 2016a). Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to increase the ambition of their post-Kyoto climate pledges through a ratcheting-up process that begins in 2023. With the disagreement on effort-sharing approaches, the international community relies on diverging metrics to evaluate the adequacy of national pledges with the global warming thresholds.

Since the beginning of climate negotiations under the United Nations, a rich literature has modelled allocations of emissions rights to countries using various effort-sharing approaches with uncoordinated parameterisation. At the start of this PhD work, no study modelled the effort-sharing categories presented in the last IPCC report under a common parameterisation. Additionally, the literature on the combination of effort-sharing approaches remained thin and consisted of averaging the emissions allocations of multiple effort-sharing approaches. This PhD thesis addresses these gaps with the modelling of a new emissions allocation framework, the ‘PRIMAP-Equity’ framework, and with the suggestion of a new combination of effort-sharing approaches.

Firstly, this thesis quantifies allocations of emissions rights to countries in a manner that reflects the existing literature on distributive justice. An emissions allocation framework is developed to derive national emissions allocations that reflect the five equity categories of the fifth IPCC report. This modelling framework is applied to derive emissions allocations, under each of the five equity categories, consistent with the emissions mitigation goals of the G7 Elmau agreement signed in June 2015. The allocation framework is then used to derive national emissions trajectories aligned with the recent Paris Agreement goals of both well below 2 °C and 1.5 °C, consistently with the five equity categories . This work represents the first quantification of equitable national trajectories to achieve 1.5 °C goal and informs scientists and government experts in the preparation of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 °C (IPCC 2017). The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), countries’ national pledges, of 171 Parties are then evaluated in order to determine which, if any, categories of equity they are consistent with. As well, the thesis highlights the consistency of G20 countries’ pledges with equity allocations. This is discussed in the context of the statement on fairness contained in each pledge.

This PhD thesis then addresses the apparent incompatibility between the global warming thresholds and countries’ self-interested visions of effort-sharing by suggesting a new quantitative approach. Doing so, this PhD thesis provides a new metric, inclusive of all international positions, to assess the ambition of the NDCs under the Paris Agreement. This new ‘hybrid’ allocation method reconciles the ‘bottom-up’ approach of equity with the ‘top-down’ climate threshold that they commonly agreed. Under this ‘hybrid’ approach, each country follows the least stringent effort-sharing approach – out of the five that reflect the equity categories presented in the last IPCC report – to achieve the Paris Agreement. The aggregation of current national pledges is found to align with such a ‘bottom-up’ combination of approaches and lead to a warming of up to 2.3 °C in 2100 (with a 50% chance). Conversely, an enhanced ‘bottom-up’ approach – ‘hybrid’ – of global emissions scenarios leading to 1.1 °C and 1.3 °C warmings results in the achievement of the Paris Agreement mitigation goals of 1.5 °C and well below 2 °C, respectively. Ultimately, this study quantifies a compromise where each country can choose an equity approach to determine its effort, but does directly use that approach to assess other countries’ pledges. Finally, the application of this ‘hybrid’ approach provides a temperature assessment for all countries’ climate pledges, indicating the consistency of countries’ ambition in light of the global temperature goals. The NDCs of India, the EU, the USA and China are in line with global ‘bottom-up’ situations leading to warmings of 2.6 °C, 3.2 °C, 4 °C and over 5.1 °C, respectively.

The results of this thesis can inform public opinions and decision makers through the ratcheting-up process on what constitutes fair and ambitious pledges to achieve the Paris Agreement following a range or combination of equity approaches. Additionally, the assessments of the adequacy of countries’ pledges with international agreements can inform courts when ruling ‘climate cases’ where governments are sued for their lack of ambition in mitigating emissions (Sabin Center for Climate Change Law 2018).

Link to the PhD Thesis:

Completion seminar - Yann Robiou du Pont, July 28th 2017

Abstract: With the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 °C and pursue efforts to 1.5 °C. Equitable distribution across countries of emissions rights consistent with these goals is contentious and involves divergent views of distributive justice. With the absence of consensus on an effort-sharing approach, current negotiations under the UNFCCC follow an uncoordinated, or ‘bottom-up’, approach where each country tends to support its favoured approach. The sum of all parties’ announced contributions is not consistent with the Paris Agreement goals.

This thesis offers a normative method to quantify national emissions trajectories consistent with the temperature goals under each IPCC equity category or a combination of approaches in a ‘bottom-up’ regime. The resulting emissions allocation provides a new scale, is inclusive of all international positions, to assess the ambition of the Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement.

Journal Article
Authors: Fiona Haines and Dylan McConnell

Abstract: This paper analyses normative change in electricity supply in order to understand the challenges associated with the introduction of a non-negotiable environmental norm, a change necessary to ensure long-term environmental sustainability of the supply system. The analysis combines the work of Wolfgang Streeck together with that of ecological modernisation to trace the fate of an environmental norm as it emerges within a complex pre-existing institutional context comprising social norms around accessibility, affordability and reliability as well as the more recent emphasis on the benefits of competition. The analysis shows how ‘strong’ forms of ecological modernist policy change, policies in which environmental norms were explicit, were vulnerable to carbon intensive businesses arguing that they posed too significant a social risk. Yet, solar PV has been associated with ‘weaker’ forms of ecological modernist policy development where solar proponents have succeeded in demonstrating, despite significant opposition, how solar PV can be embedded within the competition norm thereby promoting both competition and environmental goals. This weaker form of ecological modernist change may have far reaching unintended consequences as solar PV on residential houses enhances the capacity of those households as ‘prosumers’ to ensure their interests are better supported. An environmental norm may be established here but social norms around rights to an essential service may also be placed at risk.

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Online Article

By Kate Dooley and Doreen Stabinsky. Originally published on 10 December 2015, 2.16 AEDT.

One of the final obstacles in the way of a binding agreement at the Paris climate talks comes down to a simple number: 1.5. Limiting warming to a 1.5℃ temperature rise above pre-industrial levels is one of three potential targets on the table as negotiations approach the crucial final days. The other options are a firm limit of 2℃ and a limit of 2℃ with an aspiration to reduce to 1.5℃ in the coming years.

Releasing the latest draft text on Wednesday afternoon local time, the summit’s president Laurent Fabius listed the target as one of three outstanding major issues, alongside finance and the question of how to differentiate the responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

Many industrialised countries have surprised the world at the talks with a new-found fondness for 1.5℃. The target has long been a key demand of most poor nations, particularly small island states and least-developed countries.

Scientists consider that as 1.5℃ is breached, we will risk passing critical tipping points. In particular, sea level rise associated with that level of temperature increase poses an existential threat to low-lying island states.

Despite more than 100 developing nations being firmly in favour of a 1.5℃ limit, countries came to a political agreement in 2010 to collectively set themselves a 2℃ threshold

Kicking the carbon habit

If a temperature limit of 1.5℃ is fixed in the new Paris agreement, that raises the question of what countries will need to do to stay below that level of warming.

The UN’s top climate science body has shown that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are cumulative, with residence times in the atmosphere of thousands to tens of thousands of years. Temperature rise has a linear relationship with carbon emissions, so we can estimate the remaining amount of CO2 that can be emitted before we risk passing any temperature limit with some probability. For a 50% probability of staying below 1.5℃, there was a remaining carbon budget of 550-600 gigatonnes CO2 in 2011. At current annual global emissions of around 36 gigatonnes CO2, this budget will be used up in less than two decades.

What does staying below 1.5℃ mean in practice? Nothing less than full decarbonisation of the global economy by 2050. We must stop burning all fossil fuels before the middle of the century, along with a massive effort to keep forests standing and protect biodiversity. That is no small feat.

While some say limiting warming to less than 1.5℃, or even 2℃, is out of reach, ultimately 1.5℃ is a political signal for greater ambition, and a more serious global engagement in addressing climate change. Late in the day as this signal might be, it is important that a new international agreement does not include a temperature limit that even the UN has recognised is not a safe guardrail.

But what does this mean in real terms – if a temperature goal is agreed that requires rapid decarbonization: who must do what, and by when?

Fair shares

At the heart of the standoff in the climate talks are fundamental differences over who has more responsibility to act, and what a fair approach to drive greater ambition looks like. A broad coalition of NGOs set out to define a methodology to answer that question, taking into consideration the remaining carbon budget, historical emissions (as impacts on temperature are cumulative, historical emissions matter), and differing capacities between countries.

Their numbers show that the ambition – UNFCCC jargon for emission reduction efforts – of all developed countries falls well below their fair share of what is needed to stay within the remaining budget. Top of the list of offenders are Russia and Japan who are making little to no contribution to what would be considered their fair share of effort, while the US and the EU have pledged around a fifth of their fair share.

In this context, we start to understand why many developing countries might not want to commit to a 1.5℃ limit without clear rules on how to divide up the effort. The current emissions trajectories of developed countries will take up far more than their fair share of the remaining budget, seriously impeding the poverty alleviation and sustainable development aspirations of developing countries.

But development trajectories that exceed the global carbon budget will not work for the planet – regardless of who has done what historically, all countries are now bound by the very limited carbon budget remaining. This means that even for countries who have pledged what is basically their fair share of global action, such as China or India, they will need to do a lot more to keep the world anywhere near a 1.5℃ pathway.

For poorer countries (India ranks 135 on the Human Development Index), committing to do more than their fair share needs to be in the context of international commitment to support.

Collective goals

In the end, the 1.5℃ conversation is not the real debate. The real challenge in Paris is to agree on language for emissions reductions that is even remotely compatible with achieving whatever temperature goal is set. This is referred to as the “collective global goal”.

Options for a global goal include peaking emissions, zero emissions, or decarbonisation or climate neutrality. But without a differentiated long-term goal – one that puts increased ambition in the context of more support for developing countries – whether the goal is for peaking or zero, 2050 or 2100, all becomes meaningless.

Ultimately, the call for 1.5℃ must not become a distraction from the real challenge: agreeing a collective goal that includes both ambition and equity. Without a clear sense of who needs to take the lead, who needs support to do more than their fair share, and how this will collectively keep global emissions within a carbon budget – everyone will lose.

Online Article
Anita Talberg

As special envoy on climate change to the UN Secretary-General, Mary Robinson negotiated with world leaders ahead of the successful Paris climate summit in December 2015.

Through her work on climate change Robinson is an active proponent of “climate justice”, which advocates sharing the burden of mitigating and adapting to climate change between all parts of society, and particularly between developed and developing nations.

In this article (The Conversation) Anita Talberg, PhD candidate at the Climate and Energy College summarises the key points of Mary Robinson's University of Melbourne MSSI Oration on the 15th March 2016.


Deputy head of PIK's research domain Sustainable Solutions and head of the group Energy Strategies Europe and Germany, Dr. Brigitte Knopf, presented "The German Energiewende and Climate Change Mitigation."


Professor Deli Chen is the discipline leader of the Soil Water, Nutrients, and Greenhouse Gases in Melbourne School of Land and Environment and the Deputy Directory of the Australia-China Centre on Water Resource Research


Dr. Lauren Rickards is a research fellow with Melbourne School of Land and Environement and the Melbourne Sustainable Socieites Institute. She presented "Out of the Shadows: Why don’t senior decision makers take decisive action on climate change?" for Science and Pretzels on 21 May 2014.


Chief Research Scientist and Leader of the Adaptive Primary Industries, Enterprises and Communities theme at CSIRO presented "Climate adaptation in Australia: successes, failures and some lessons learnt" on 11 June 2014.

Authors: Stephen Pollard, Kate Dooley, Dylan McConnell, Malte Meinshausen, Rachelle Meyer, Annabelle Workman


  • The Paris agreement on climate change explicitly recognises that national contributions are not sufficient to hold global warming to the guardrails of 2 degrees and 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement includes a process for nations to regularly revise and increase the ambition of targets. Accordingly, the Authority must assess policies on the basis of how quickly they will have an impact on emissions and how rapidly they can be ratcheted up in order to achieve deeper emissions cuts than Australia’s current targets.

  • The Authority should broaden its assessment of climate change mitigation policies to consider the wider social impacts of policies, in addition to cost-effectiveness, environmental effectiveness and equity considerations.

  • To ensure that policies are designed to work for conditions that will be encountered in the real world, a strategic approach to emissions reductions should be developed, rather than a narrowly defined framework of economic optimization. This should involve the pursuit of mitigation across all sectors of policy and levels of government, recognising that emissions reductions will not always be the primary aim of policies.

  • It follows that the introduction of market mechanisms such as emissions trading or carbon taxes should be considered in conjunction with other policy approaches, including targeted support for renewable energy, regulations, funding for research and development, and well-designed programs to understand and support changes to social practices.

  • In addition to providing incentives for the phase-in of renewables technologies and energy efficiency, the Climate Change Authority should examine innovative complimentary policies to regulate the least efficient electricity production capacity.

  • The impact of policies on Australia’s international competitiveness should be assessed in the context of the Paris agreement and the creation of opportunities for Australia to participate and lead in developing solutions to the causes of climate change and adapt to its inevitable impacts.

  • The Authority should also examine further policy opportunities that could bring significant benefits to Australia, including emissions reductions, such as reform of the national electricity market to support a greater share of renewable and distributed energy, reviewing industry support mechanisms for fossil fuel producers, incorporating climate change considerations into all major policy decisions and halting the approval of new coal mines.

Journal Article

Authors: Yann Robiou du Pont, Malte Meinshausen

Abstract: Under the bottom-up architecture of the Paris Agreement, countries pledge Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Current NDCs individually align, at best, with divergent concepts of equity and are collectively inconsistent with the Paris Agreement. We show that the global 2030-emissions of NDCs match the sum of each country adopting the least-stringent of five effort-sharing allocations of a well-below 2 °C-scenario. Extending such a self-interested bottom-up aggregation of equity might lead to a median 2100-warming of 2.3 °C. Tightening the warming goal of each country’s effort-sharing approach to aspirational levels of 1.1 °C and 1.3 °C could achieve the 1.5 °C and well-below 2 °C-thresholds, respectively. This new hybrid allocation reconciles the bottom-up nature of the Paris Agreement with its top-down warming thresholds and provides a temperature metric to assess NDCs. When taken as benchmark by other countries, the NDCs of India, the EU, the USA and China lead to 2.6 °C, 3.2 °C, 4 °C and over 5.1 °C warmings, respectively.

Citation: Robiou du Pont, Y. et al. Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges. Nature Communications 7, (2018),

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