Tonight at the latest round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, the Australian government will be on the global stage answering some hard questions from other countries about the credibility of our climate policy.

The questioning tonight will be masked in diplomatic language and the technicalities of the global agreements we have signed up to. But, behind the nuance and UN parlance, the formal questions, which have already been asked in writing by China, Brazil, the US, the EU and others, raise doubts whether Australia’s 2020 emissions reductions targets and domestic policies are internationally credible.

To date, the lack of transparency around Australia’s response to these questions has been deeply disappointing. The government appears to be inflating the impact of its actions to 2020 without providing any estimate of the pollution reductions it will deliver. If we are not prepared to be upfront with the international community, how can we expect China, Brazil and other emerging economies to do the same?

The importance of the process Australia and other developed countries are going through in Bonn extends beyond diplomatic posturing and a few headlines.

All countries, developed and developing, need to be tested on the veracity of their targets and policies to meet them. The current process is a step in that direction.

This Bonn meeting is the next step towards the Paris climate meeting in December, which aims to deliver the world’s next agreement for reducing pollution. It will be the first universal agreement that requires targets from all countries to act on global warming. In Bonn, countries are focused on what really matters at the heart of the Paris agreement. The transparency and accountability of countries’ commitments are part of this.

But this is not all about the numbers and targets.

This current stage in climate negotiations is about things that are much harder to measure, but just as meaningful to the ultimate goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees, and avoiding or minimising its catastrophic impacts.

Paris will be successful if countries agree to establish a durable and flexible framework that sends a strong signal to business, communities and investors that a zero-emissions economy is inevitable. This is what is needed to limit warming to less than 2 degrees, which is what the more than 190 countries in the process have agreed to.

Paris will be an evolution of the global framework that puts pressure on countries to do more at home. Greater transparency and accountability frameworks are key to building trust that nations are doing what they say, and sharing best practice in pollution-reduction policy.

Paris is not going to save the world. Domestic policies and investment reduce pollution, not international agreements. However, Paris can establish a framework that is bankable, credible and fair. This it can use to hold fire to the feet of the politicians and investors who can make a difference.

Peter Fray

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