Australia grilled on emissions at Bonn – fires back with single slide, dodgy accounting

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Australia has told a UN meeting it won’t lift its emissions reduction targets, nor introduce new climate policies, while hiding its growing emissions.

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Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Australia faced a grilling by other nations and has avoided questions on the future of its emissions reduction targets and skirted discussion of rising Australian emissions, during a round of United Nations climate change talks held in Germany this week.

International climate change negotiators have gathered in Bonn, for mid-year discussions which have included scrutiny of the progress countries are making towards meeting their Kyoto Protocol targets.

At the intersessional meeting in Bonn, Australia called upon to provide an update on its progress towards meeting its 2020 emissions reduction target, where Australia has made clear that it has no intention of setting targets that are more ambitious than those it has already committed to achieving and insisted that it has sufficient policies in place to achieve its targets.

The Australian Government has consistently asserted that it will meet its Paris targets, despite data showing that it will more than likely fall short.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia has committed to reducing its emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 but has taken advantage of favourable loopholes and the carry-over of surplus credits. Australia insisted that it will also use surplus carry-over permits to meet its 28% by 2030 emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement, despite objections from some delegates who cited doubts that Australia could even carryover surplus permits between the Kyoto and Paris agreements.

“On the issue of carryover, the Australian government has said that it would use carryover to meet the 2030 target, to the extent necessary.” Australia’s ambassador for the environment, Patrick Suckling.

ENB_SB50_24JunAustralian negotiators Kushla Munro (L) and Patrick Suckling (R) e19_KiaraWorth-10 sucking and kushla
Australian negotiators Kushla Munro (L) and Patrick Suckling (R) (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

Australia’s presentation included a single slide (below) that addressed how Australia’s emissions have been tracking since 2000. Australia’s representatives opted to rely on the misleading “emissions per capita” and “emissions per unit of GDP” figures, in an attempt to show Australia was making a positive contribution to reducing global emissions. Such metrics are not recognised under either the Kyoto Protocol, nor the Paris Agreement, and have repeatedly been dismissed as meaningless.

Even then, Suckling told delegates that Australia’s reductions emissions per capita, and per unit of GDP, were down to government efforts.

“This decline is in large part the result of government policies. An overall decline in land clearing and structural changes in the Australian economy.”

However, the largest contribution to these falling figures has nothing to do with emissions. Australia’s population has grown in the order of 32% since 2000. Likewise, Australia’s nominal GDP has grown in the order of 68% over the same period.

It is primarily these factors, a growing population and a growing economy, that explain why the Australian government can continue to present figures that appear to show a “positive effect”, and by relying on this chart alone, Australia has effectively hidden the fact that Australia’s overall emissions have been rising over the last six years.

Australia per capita gdp emissions
The only slide Australia used showing the impact on emissions, citing emissions per capita and per unit of GDP only. Source: Australian Government

During the session, Australia was pressed by the European Union on whether Australia had considered the “costs of inaction” when setting emissions targets and policies.

This notion was rejected outright by Suckling.

“Have we looked at the cost of inaction? We are taking action, so I’m not sure of the basis of that question. We’re taking significant action and have for many years” Suckling said.

Australia has long said that it would ramp up its 2020 target if an international agreement could be reached. The 5% by 2020 reduction target is unconditional and was to rise to 15% upon reaching an international agreement. Australia also committed to achieving reductions of 25% by 2020, should an international agreement be sufficient to limit CO2 concentrations to no more than 450 parts per million.

Belize and Trinidad and Tobago both pressed Australia on whether it would increase its 5% reduction by 2020 emissions reduction target, in light of recent developments, including the Paris Agreement and pointed to the Climate Change Authority recommendations that Australia lifts its 2030 target.

Australia’s negotiators ignored these questions and confirmed that neither does it have any intention of reviewing its 2030 targets.

“We’re not intending to review our target for 2030; we’re intending to meet our target. And our record in terms of the last two [targets] is that we met and exceeded Kyoto I and we’re on track to meet and beat Kyoto II.” Suckling said.

Saudi Arabia also quizzed delegates on Australian Government projections showing that it is not on track to meet its 2030 Paris targets, and queried whether Australia intended to introduce additional policies to reduce emissions.

“We’ve reviewed our full suite of policies in relation to 2030, and we are confident they are the right policies in place to meet our 2030 target,” Suckling said in response.

“We do think our existing policies are scalable and flexible enough to meet the target we have set for ourselves; we do think we will achieve that target. We did the review in 2017 to assure ourselves that we had the right policies in place for our target. We are confident we have the right policies in place.”

“That’s not to say that other policies won’t come in the next few years.”

The Australian representatives were hopeful for the opportunities that hydrogen could play in the future, telling delegates in response to a question from Japan that there was potential for it to achieve comparable export revenues as those currently generated by gas exports.

Photos by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

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