Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor will be forced to defend Australia’s use of an accounting dodge to meet its 2030 emissions reduction targets, as more than 100 nations move to block the Morrison government’s contentious plans to use carryover Kyoto credits.
In a draft decision that emerged on the weekend, climate negotiators will be forced to decide on the issue of the Kyoto carryover permits, as a group of developing countries push for Kyoto era units to be excluded from the Paris Agreement.
Going into the talks, there had been some speculation that Australia would seek to keep quiet about the Kyoto carryover issue hoping to avoid an explicit prohibition.
However, Australian negotiators, including Angus Taylor who has now arrived in Madrid, will be forced to defend plans to carry over surplus emissions permits that the Morrison government is counting on to deliver around half of the action needed to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, a group of “developed” countries, including Australia, established targets to reduce emissions by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire next year and will be replaced by the Paris Agreement which covers all countries.
Australia is hoping to “carryover” its leftover Kyoto-era permits – including the “excess from the first period of Kyoto when it was actually allowed to increase emissions – into the Paris Agreement.
The move has been opposed by the European Union, its Pacific Island neighbours in the Alliance of Small Island States, and other influential blocs. They say its undermines the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement.
Researcher Richie Merzian, a former negotiator who is attending the COP25 climate talks in Madrid with The Australia Institute, believes Taylor will face an uphill battle to defend the government’s plans, with as many as 100 countries opposed to the carryover of the surplus Kyoto units.
“The Australian Government, and Angus Taylor, will spend the week on the backfoot defending their efforts to game the UN climate system once again,” Merzian told RenewEconomy.
“There are probably over 100 countries backing a restriction on the use of dated Kyoto Protocol credits to meet Paris Agreement commitments, leaving Australia on the defensive arguing why it is entitled to this loophole.”
“There are still five days of negotiations to go and the restriction could change but certainly won’t be coming off the table any time soon,” Merzian added
In a draft decision on prepared by negotiators released on the weekend, two options have been flagged; one would include a prohibition on the use of carried over emissions towards meeting Paris agreement targets, known as “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs), and the other option, Australia’s preferred option, would have countries making a decision to say nothing on the matter.
The wording of draft decision text will almost certainly be amended, as its current wording would see all Kyoto era units prevented from being carried over into the Paris Agreement, including credits created under the Clean Development Mechanism, that have largely underpinned clean infrastructure investments in China, India and Brazil.
A recent study has estimated that as much as four billion tonnes worth of excess Kyoto-era emissions permits could be carried over into the Paris Agreement. These extra units have long been dubbed ‘hot air‘, as they have little relationship to actual reductions in global greenhouse emissions.
This influential bloc of “emerging” economies could use their clout to ensure the Clean Development Mechanism units are carried over into the Paris Agreement and could leave Australia essentially friendless in arguing for its own surplus permits to be carried over, a position unpopular with a large number of countries.
“Currently the restriction affects more than just Australia, but it could whittle down to target just Australia and put Minister Taylor in a lonely position,” Merzian said.
“Pacific countries have thrown their support behind moves to restrict Australia’s use of dodgy carbon credits to meet its Paris Target. The Australian Government will once again have to choose between its regional family and advocating its controversial climate loophole.”
Australian negotiators will likely consider moves to prevent the surplus Kyoto permits being carried over into the Paris Agreement as a deal-breaker, but whether Australian negotiators possess enough diplomatic clout to see the exclusion removed from the final decision text will be tested this week.
The Morrison government may fall victim to its own cost-cutting measures, which saw Australia’s diplomatic teams dramatically downsized, raising fears that Australia will be outgunned by the diplomatic efforts of countries like China, particularly in the Pacific region.
Australia is also sending a relatively inexperienced team to talks, with a first time lead negotiator and a first time emissions reduction minister leading its delegation.
Updated projections of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions released on the weekend shows that the Morrison government will remain reliant on the carryover of surplus units from its 2020 emissions reduction target under the Kyoto protocol.
Angus Taylor will address the UN talks on Wednesday morning in Madrid (Wednesday night Australian time) during a ‘high-level’ segment reserved for ministers and heads of state. Taylor is expected to leave Madrid shortly after his speech but may be forced to remain in Madrid until the end of the week if the carryover issue remains unresolved.
An estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of Madrid on Friday, including Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, calling on nations to commit to meaningful action on climate change.