Morrison might abandon Kyoto carryover, but Australia will remain friendless without stronger policies

Prime minister Scott Morrison has hinted that his government may abandon controversial plans for Australia to rely upon surplus emissions permits to meet its 2030 reduction targets, but the news has been met by renewed calls for the Morrison government to actually “do something” on emissions and adopt stronger climate policies.

In a speech to the Business Council of Australia, Morrison suggested that the government might reconsider the use of the contentious Kyoto carryover credits, some of which were earned because Australia initial Kyoto target allowed for a signifiant increase in emissions, rather than a cut.

“Let me be very clear; my ambition, my government’s ambition, is that we will not need them and we are working to this as our goal, consistent with our record of over-delivering in these areas. I am confident our policies will get this job done,” Morrison told BCA members.

The Morrison government is likely to release new emissions projections before the end of the year, detailing progress towards its 2030 emissions reduction target. The 2019 projections showed that Australia was on track to miss its 2030 target, with the government planning to use leftover Kyoto Protocol-era units to bridge the gap.

The Morrison government may use the Covid-19 impact and the promise of its Technology Investment Roadmap to claim that it is now on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target, which is set at 26 per cent below 2005 levels (a year chosen for its high land clearing emissions), without the need for the surplus Kyoto units.

Climate advocates have argued that the potential use of Kyoto credits is an accounting fudge, ad have argued that Australia needs to significantly ramp up its actions and its targets, including adopting a long term target to reach zero emissions, to contribute a ‘fair share’ to limiting global warming to safe levels.

“This isn’t the first time Morrison has paid lip service to ditching his government’s use of Kyoto credits – the Prime Minister has been full of BS to date on everything to do with climate action,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter said.

“After almost seven years of inaction, waffle, and propping up the coal, oil and gas industries responsible for climate change, I would challenge the Prime Minister to actually come through with a meaningful climate policy this time. Our Great Barrier Reef has bleached, our country has burned, our skies have filled with smoke – and still, nothing but BS.”

Progressive think tank The Australia Institute has previously commissioned legal advice which found that the Morrison government’s plans to rely on the Kyoto credit surplus to meet its 2030 target were legally baseless, as no such carryover was envisioned in the Paris Agreement. The think tank has argued that Australia is falling behind international peers, with a number of Australia’s largest trading partners recently adopting stricter emissions reduction targets.

“The comments from the Prime Minister are a reflection of growing international pressure on Australia to not cheat on their climate homework by using these dodgy Kyoto credits and instead reduce emissions over the next decade like everyone else,” the TAI’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian told RenewEconomy.

“Hopefully, it leads to an actual policy position to cancel the Kyoto credits and not marketing around not using them unless we have to.”

Australia was met with fierce criticism from other countries at the last round of international climate talks, held last year in Madrid, with dozens of countries expressing dismay at Australia’s plan to shortcut its way to meeting its comparatively weak 2030 target, arguing that it was not in the spirit of the Paris Agreement.

Australia’s climate policies were rated as “simply embarrassing” this week and among the worst in the G20 by the Climate Transparency group.

As the host of the next international climate change negotiations, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson has sought to put pressure on other countries to increase their emissions reduction targets, setting an example by adopting a zero net emissions target for 2050.

Speaking to an online panel organised by the Clean Energy Council on Friday, director of the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at the Australian National University Frank Jotzo said that Australia’s current policy platform would not be enough to satisfy the expectations of international peers, many of which have adopted official targets to reach net zero emissions.

“We got the impression on the course of this year that the intent is to basically use the Technology Roadmap as the basis for a document that will be submitted to the United Nations as a long term strategy. I really don’t think that’s going to cut it with any other government or country, that takes climate change actually seriously,” Jotzo told the CEC panel.

“What’s needed, and what many other countries have provided, is an integrated strategy that spells out how emissions can actually be reduced towards net zero by the middle of the century.”

The Morrison government has refused to formally adopt a zero emissions target for Australia, and Jotzo warns that Australia could find itself allied with an unusual group of countries in maintaining this refusal.

“Australia would be almost completely isolated on this. If you look at like -minded countries on a position that says, ‘we’re not going to put forward a 2050 target, we’re not going to strengthen our 2030 target’, then you are down to countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, perhaps Brazil, which is really not the kind of company you want to keep,” Jotzo added.

Former Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, told the same panel that Australia could expect a renewed focus on international climate action from an incoming Biden presidency, more so than that shown by the previous Obama administration.

“The qualitative difference between the Obama presidency and the Biden presidency on climate is that you can always think of climate during the Obama years as being an adornment, an important one, an add-on, to an agenda. Whereas Biden seems to be doing something else – that is placing climate at the heart of diplomacy – and that is a qualitative difference,” Carr said.


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