'Betrayal of trust': Australia faces backlash for 'carry over' emission credits

The minister responsible for Australia’s climate change targets is bracing for backlash at an international forum.

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

Australia’s approach to reducing emissions is expected to come under scrutiny at a UN climate summit with about 100 countries pushing for the banning of so-called "carryover credits".

The use of the accounting loophole to meet international emissions targets is on the agenda to be debated at the COP25 conference underway in Madrid. 

Emissions projections released as Energy Minister Angus Taylor left for the summit showed Australia will exceed its 2030 Paris target by 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.  

Children symbollically represent climate change greet Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he arrives for the Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti, Tuvalu.
Children symbollically represent climate change greet Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he arrives for the Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Source: AAP

Australia has committed to reducing emissions 26 per cent, to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 under the global agreement. 

But without the use of the credits, the nation's emissions contribution is set to drop by only 16 per cent below these levels.

Richie Merzian, the Australia Institute’s director of climate and energy program, told SBS News a “critical mass of countries” were calling for the Paris agreement not to be “corrupted by these loopholes”.

“There is a growing sentiment that countries like Australia … need to be doing their fair share – not more – just their fair share,” he said.

“Their fair share means actually reducing emissions going forward – not relying on generous carve-outs from the past.

"Once it is on the table as it is now it will linger ... Australia will have to constantly come back and justify how it is planning on meeting its targets – and this issue could potentially be raised again and again."

The 25th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change is expected to work through the rules for implementing the Paris agreement.

Mr Taylor insists Australia has an enviable record to present at the COP25 UN climate talks.

"We meet and beat our targets and our track record is something all Australians can be proud of," the energy minister told AAP on Tuesday.

"It is important that no country is penalised for beating its target, either under the Kyoto or Paris - this is the basis for greater ambition."

Carryover credits are a means for nations to claim credit for exceeding the emissions targets under previous climate agreements.  

But according to a draft “guidance on cooperative approaches” at the summit, one potential option up for debate is whether the use of such allowances should be banned.

“Kyoto Protocol units, or reductions underlying such units, may not be used by any Party toward its [nationally determined goals],” the draft agenda reads.   

Prime Minister Scott Morrsion.
Prime Minister Scott Morrsion. Source: AAP

Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, agreeing to limit emissions increases to 8 per cent above 1990 levels from 2008-2012.

The Federal government claims to have maintained 128 million tonnes of carryover credits from this period.

Australia’s target under the next period is to reduce our emissions by 5 per cent when compared to 2000 levels by 2020.

From this it is expected to claim a further 283 million tonnes in credits.

Malte Meinshausen, co-director of the Energy Transition Hub at Melbourne University and a former climate negotiator with Germany described the use of these allowances as a “betrayal of trust”.

“It is a powerplay by Australia – because none of the developing countries to achieve their targets would have the option of having any leftover credits,” he told SBS News.

Mr Meinshausen said New Zealand, the European Union and Pacific nations all opposed using such methods to reach emissions targets.

"That is a betrayal of trust and was inconceivable during the Paris agreement negotiations."

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended Australia’s record on climate change and reducing emissions.

"The policies that we're pursuing capture, I think, the sensible centre," the prime minister said.

"That sensible centre understands we need to balance both meeting the needs of sustainability in our environment and ensuring that we meet the economic needs of our nation."

Australia's Paris target equals a reduction of 452 million tonnes to 2030 – with this figure relying on 411 million tonnes worth of carryover credits.

Mr Merzian said this approach was not "strong enough action” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius.

“Australia’s highly reliant on what is a very weak argument that somehow by accruing a surplus through quite a controversial method in one treaty it can carry it over to another treaty,” he said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese also said the government was trying to "fiddle with the figures" to meet its international climate commitments.

"Well, it's no wonder that the world is pushing back on that," Mr Albanese told reporters in Queensland.

"The government's position on climate change and energy is embarrassing," he said.

Mr Taylor is expected to deliver a statement at COP25 and meet counterparts from India, Singapore and Japan.

With additional reporting from AAP

5 min read
Published 10 December 2019 at 4:28pm
By Tom Stayner