Morrison’s flimsy climate plan laid bare in strained Senate hearings

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Environment department concedes Australia stands alone on Kyoto carryover units, and cannot name ‘technology improvements’ supposed to deliver big emissions reductions.

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Officials from the Department of Environment and Energy have told a Senate estimates hearing that Australia is likely to be the only country to use surplus units from the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2020, to meet its Paris Agreement targets in 2030.

The Senate estimates hearing laid bare how flimsy the Morrison Government’s plans are for reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the department also unable to specify which ‘technology improvements’ would deliver a substantial portion of Australia’s greenhouse reduction task.

The Australian Government has copped heavy criticism for seeking to carry over the surplus units, which analysts say effectively amount to an accounting trick to meet around half of its emissions reductions required from its commitment to the Paris Agreement.

“The department estimates that Australia will “overachieve” its 2020 Kyoto protocol target by a total of 367 million tonnes. The government intends to use this as a credit towards meeting its 26 to 28 per cent 2030 emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement.

The government has said that it will use the overachievement to the extent necessary,” deputy secretary of the environment department Jo Evans said.

When asked about which other countries that may seek to use the same arrangements to meet its Paris Agreement targets, departmental officials were forced to concede that Australia was the only country pursuing such an accounting trick.

“We are not aware of other countries that are intending to use carry over. Just Australia,” a department official told the estimates hearing.

The concession is significant as it exposes the risk that the Morrison Government is taking in seeking to use the carry over Kyoto units.

To be able to use the carryover units, Australia will need to gain consensus support from all other countries that have signed up to the Paris Agreement to have the arrangement written into the agreement’s rules. If Australia is the sole voice demanding carryover to be allowed, it is likely to be rejected.

It was a strained hearing for a department that is trying to defend the Morrison government’s plan and track record on climate change. At one point during the estimates hearing, department officials were unable to say whether to not climate change was making things “worse”.

“The scientific evidence suggests says that the climate is definitely changing. It is changing in a direction that implies that temperatures are increasing. It implies that a range of climatic events that had certain probability levels in the past are likely to get higher in the future.” Evans said.

“Whether you choose to use terminology as worse or better depends on where you are on the global. Some parts of the world will find some of those changes working to their advantage, some of them not so much.”

Department officials were unable to name any of the “technology improvements” that the department expects to deliver around 100 million tonnes of abatement through to 2030, having to take the question on notice.

This is despite the repeated claims by minister for minister reductions Angus Taylor that “we’ve laid out to the last tonne how we’re going to reach those Paris commitments”.

The response of the department officials shocked Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who quizzed the department on the “technology improvements”, with the department saying they were not able to identify what they were about.

“You’re not serious. This is a third of your emission reduction policy and you can’t tell me what technology improvements you’re banking on in order to produce this outcome?” Hanson-Young said.

“When we produced the document and gave the advice to the government, it is a general concept of technological improvements that will happen over time. If we were able to make them specific, we would have done that,” deputy secretary Evans responded.

“It is the rate at which technology is likely to improve over time and that is a long time between now and 2030. We are expecting to see substantial contributions from technologies where we don’t actually know yet what they will come from.”

Source: Department of Environment and Energy

Department officials said that they expect to produce updated projections of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions before the end of the year, but was not able to indicate whether the government would review Australia’s progress towards meeting the 2030 target before it was required to deliver an update to the UNFCCC in 2025.

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