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Are Australia's Paris 2030 emissions reductions on track thanks to 'loophole'?

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Australia will meet its 2030 emissions reduction targets of 26 to 28 per cent "in a canter", Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said — on more than one occasion — but with emissions consistently increasing, it hasn't always been clear how that will happen.

Something that might help is counting old credits, left over from the Kyoto targets, the first in 2012 and the second due in 2020, which Australia is expected to meet with a significant excess.

The Climate Council's Professor Will Steffen said that would be using past accounting systems to apply a future reduction — using "accounting fiddles to weaken even their pathetically weak target for 2030".

COP24, the major annual summit on climate change is currently taking place at Katowice in Poland.

One of its goals is hashing out the rules for the Paris accord.

Professor Frank Jotzo, a Climate Change policy expert from the ANU, said there was a question as to whether counting old credits would even be allowed — currently or in the future.

"So it's not clear to what extent there will or will not be rules around the use of surplus credits towards the 2030 targets," Professor Jotzo said.

"The name of the game really is transparency, and that's the provisions that many countries are aiming to tighten."

As to whether or not counting old credits would be legitimate, he said the 2030 Paris pledges were clear: countries will reduce emissions to a specified level in 2030.

"There's really no ifs and buts … our expectation would clearly be that earlier surplus credits will not be used to justify an underachievement on the 2030 targets," Professor Jotzo said.

The Labor Party has committed to a 45-per-cent emissions-reduction target by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050, but it won't comment on the question of credits.

And the Federal Government hasn't responded to the ABC's request for comment on the matter either.

Why it's not fair

If Australia did come in miles ahead in its Kyoto targets, why should those not count towards its Paris 2030 targets?

"This is basically an accounting fiddle," Professor Steffen said.

"Fake emission reductions aren't emission reductions at all."

He described counting that excess towards the 2030 target as "a loophole".

"That's a tactic that other countries have not done explicitly, because they don't think it's fair," he said.

Those countries are Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

He said Australia's Kyoto target was "completely inadequate" from a scientific perspective, and "pathetically weak".

"It was a concession made by the other countries just to get Australia in the tent," he said.

According to Professor Steffen, Australia's Paris target was equally devoid of scientific merit.

"So why should we use yet another fiddle to even get less action on climate change?"

The Paris targets are non-binding, but Dr Bruce Mountain, the director of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre, said counting credits from the Kyoto targets was fundamentally against the spirit of the Paris agreement.

"To be honest, I find the whole discussion somewhat spurious," he told PM.

"It's so obviously contrary to the principle of the agreement.

"That we could be even be contemplating this now is unusual and it makes no sense to me."


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