Australia’s climate plan earns no credit
At a time when the United Nations is warning that the world needs to do a lot more to avoid a dramatic rise in global temperatures, it is disappointing that Environment Minister Angus Taylor has travelled to crucial talks in Madrid to say Australia would like to do less.
The talks will set the detailed rules of the Paris climate agreement under which more than 175 countries have promised to curb their greenhouse gas emissions after 2020, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.
The UN says countries must – at a minimum – stick to their existing promises. Ideally, they must cut faster if there is to be any chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees. A faster rise in temperature would turn the forests of Victoria and NSW to cinders and obliterate most coral reefs everywhere.
From the outset, Australia’s pledge to cut emissions was not as ambitious as those of others such as European nations or Japan. It would have allowed Australia to retain its spot as one of the highest emitters per capita in the world, in part, because of its reliance on LNG and coal.
But Mr Taylor now hopes to use an accounting loophole to meet international emissions targets at the UN climate talks in Madrid that allows us to ‘‘bank’’ credits accumulated during the Kyoto period of 2008-2020. We are in the minority against about 100 countries – including New Zealand and many European nations – who say this interpretation breaks the spirit of the Paris agreement. Brazil, Russia and China are yet to express a view.
If the use of Kyoto carryover credits is allowed, it will render the Paris agreement almost useless. Carryover credits were accumulated by Australia and Russia because they negotiated easy-to-beat Kyoto targets. In other words, the credits we want to use in Madrid were not earned because we made meaningful cuts to emissions. Rather, we were one of three nations permitted to lift emissions.
If Australia, Russia and other countries are allowed to ‘‘cash in’’ their credits, then the world will not get close to making the cuts necessary to curb global warming.
Government projections made public as Mr Taylor left for Spain suggest Australia is on track to meet its 2030 target (at least a 26 per cent emissions cut below 2005 levels) but only if it uses carryover credits. Without them, only a 16 per cent cut in emissions would be achieved, according to the Investor Group on Climate Change.
Countries that oppose the use of carryover credits will argue that it was never intended that Australia could get credit for what it did before 2020. Australia never said during the Paris talks that it was planning to use its “overachievement” during the Kyoto period as a credit after 2020. This wheeze emerged only last year after the Turnbull government’s energy guarantee plan was dumped. The parties can argue over the legal complexities but the moral choice is clear.
If Mr Taylor gets his way, this will send a very bad signal to other countries that are already trying to twist the rules. Countries such as Ukraine might try to use carryover credits, while others such as Brazil will simply demand that their targets be relaxed or they will quit.
It is true that Australia accounts for a small share of global emissions, but The Age believes this is a case where our policies will make a big difference on a global level. Australia’s recalcitrance would tell the rest of the world that it is OK to wriggle out of what you have promised to do.