Professor Tim Stephens testifies on Paris Agreement to Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties

Professor Tim Stephens, Fellow of 6 St James International and Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney, gave evidence yesterday to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in relation to the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Tim commended the Treaties Committee on its work, commenting afterwards that it was a "very productive JSCOT hearing with excellent questions from the Chair @stuartrobertmp and other committee members".

The Treaties Committee is empowered by its resolution of appointment to inquire into and report on 'matters arising from treaties and related National Interest Analysis and proposed treaty actions presented or deemed to be presented to the Parliament.'  As nearly all treaty actions proposed by the Australian Government are tabled in Parliament, this type of review activity accounts for much of the Committee's work.

Professor Stephens had observed that Australia has signed previous climate treaties, "but it has a mixed record in following through with its commitments". He concluded that the "Turnbull government’s active and supportive participation in last year’s Paris climate negotiations signalled that, on the international plane at least, some bipartisanship has returned to Australia’s climate policy". Professor Stephens urged that legislating Australia’s climate targets, setting a national cap on emissions, and pricing carbon pollution are "vital if Australia’s signature on the Paris Agreement is to mean anything at all".

Status of Paris Climate Agreement

The Paris Climate Agreement is now on the brink of coming into force after 31 nations officially joined the landmark accord, with the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, predicting it will be fully ratified by the end of the year.

Last week, 31 countries formally signed up to the Paris deal at the UN General Assembly in New York. They include Brazil, the world’s seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Mexico, Argentina and Sri Lanka. Oil-rich United Arab Emirates also ratified the deal, as did nations considered particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, such as Kiribati and Bangladesh.

The pledges mean that a total of 60 countries, representing 47.7% of global emissions, have now formally joined the Paris agreement. The deal aims to limit the global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration of keeping it to 1.5C. 

A total of 55 nations representing at least 55% of global emissions need to sign up for the deal to come into force. The first of these thresholds has now been reached, with Ban and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, reported as both predicting that the agreement will be fully implemented within months.

About Professor Stephens

Prof. Tim Stephens teaches and researches in public international law, with his published work focussing on the international law of the sea, international environmental law and international dispute settlement. His major career works include The International Law of the Sea (Hart Publishing, 2016) with Donald R Rothwell and International Courts and Environmental Protection (Cambridge University Press, 2009). He is also a co-author of Climate Change and Forest Governance: Lessons from Indonesia (Routledge, 2015) and numerous other works. His ARC Future Fellowship research project is examining the implications of the Anthropocene for international law.

Tim joined 6 St James International as a Fellow in June 2016 and with members of the 6 St James International Legal Practice Group is available to provide advice to governments, international and transnational organisations, and other international actors on areas of international law and practice.