'Woefully inadequate': Morrison government to use Paris climate short-cut
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'Woefully inadequate': Morrison government to use Paris climate short-cut

The use of carbon credits to meet Australia's Paris climate targets would be "consistent" with the current Kyoto Protocol, the Morrison government said in the strongest signal yet it plans to exploit accounting ambiguities to meet its international commitments.

Senator Simon Birmingham told estimates on Monday the application of so-called carryover credits was "an existing feature of the Kyoto framework" that runs to 2020.

The Morrison government has made its clearest signal yet that it plans to use Kyoto period credits to count against Australia's Paris climate goals.

The Morrison government has made its clearest signal yet that it plans to use Kyoto period credits to count against Australia's Paris climate goals.Credit:Andrew Taylor

To deploy a similar treatment for carbon credits to help Australia meet its abatement target for the 2021-30 Paris climate period "appears to be a consistent application of the rules and definitions", Senator Birmingham said.

By overachieving on the Kyoto Protocol period, Australia will have a surplus, measured in tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent. The government wants to do what no other nation has indicated it will do.

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The government revealed just prior to Christmas Australia was on course to over-achieve its 2020 target by 367 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent.

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On current projections, Australia's abatement task is 695 million tonnes of CO-e, meaning the carryover credits reduce the country's emissions reduction effort by more than half.

Figures obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation under freedom of information laws show Australia's emissions are still on a rising trend.

By 2030, emissions will be 570 million tonnes of CO-e, up from 534 million tonnes in 2018, the Environment Department projections show.

That tally is also well above the 440 million tonnes implied by Australia's pledge to cut carbon pollution 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The latest projections show Australia's emissions are expect to rise to 570 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent by 2030 from about 534 million tonnes in 2018. To meet the Paris goal of a 26 per cent reduction on 2005 levels, the emissions total would need to be 442 million tonnes.

The latest projections show Australia's emissions are expect to rise to 570 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent by 2030 from about 534 million tonnes in 2018. To meet the Paris goal of a 26 per cent reduction on 2005 levels, the emissions total would need to be 442 million tonnes. Credit:Environment department, via ACF FOI request

Suzanne Harter, ACF's climate change campaigner, said the Morrison government was pre-empting global negotiations on the Paris Rule book by assuming Kyoto credits could be counted for Paris goals.

“This arrogant approach will not be appreciated by countries like New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and the UK, which have said they will not use carry-over credits to meet climate targets," Ms Harter said.

“The Australian Government is already starting from a woefully inadequate pollution reduction target that is not in line with a safe future."

The Ichthys Explorer offshore LNG production platform - part of Australia's fastest growing emissions source.

The Ichthys Explorer offshore LNG production platform - part of Australia's fastest growing emissions source.

'Fiddles'

While a federal Labor government would need to take advice on how to account for any Kyoto carbon surplus, the ALP remains opposed to their use.

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Labor’s position "has been clear for some time," Mark Butler, Labor's climate spokesman, said. "We are very strongly against accounting tricks, cop-outs and other fiddles used to dodge the obligation we have to start to reduce our carbon pollution levels seriously."

"Labor is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, and [to reach] net zero emissions by 2050," he said.

Richie Merzian, director of the climate and energy program at The Australia Institute, said Senator Birmingham's comments were the "strongest commitment" yet that it intends to bank Kyoto credits and use them for the Paris targets.

To do so, though, would single out Australia among OECD nations attempting to take advantage of "loopholes of the past", Mr Merzian said.

Tim Baxter, a researcher at Melbourne University's Australian-German Climate and Energy College, said the Morrison government was gambling that other nations will be wary of pressing Australia too hard when they too may be seeking shortcuts to meet their Paris goals.

"There are not any rules on this and there are unlikely to be any rules," Mr Baxter said.

Still, "it certainly wasn't the spirit" of Paris to accept carryovers from the Kyoto period, he said.

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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