Australia, you ARE the weakest link
On Monday the government announced a very weak emissions target for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol of a half a percent reduction on 1990 levels.
This target is the lowest possible in the government’s long stated 5-25 per cent range dependant on the level of global action.
But in school we were always told to give our best effort and this is clearly not it.
Australia should have set the example internationally by raising ambition to the higher end of their target range. Instead they have committed themselves to a reputation for doing the bare minimum.
It is now more crucial than ever that the world keeps the reduction of the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere the focal point of the Kyoto Protocol.
At the UN climate change conference in Doha over the next two weeks, countries will decide what they are going to do with the left over emission units from the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period that ends this year.
These units were used by countries to meet their emission reduction targets internationally, but some countries exceeded their goals and want their surplus units carried over into the next commitment period.
This would mean very little for climate change reduction.
In effect these countries would then be able to meet their targets not through reducing the amount of carbon and green house gases in the atmosphere, but from their left over emission units.
Indeed, a number of countries were able to meet their first Kyoto targets without any deliberate action.
For example, reductions during the dissociation of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s were due to economic reform and not any premeditated climate action.
Australia is one country hoping these units will be able to be carried over into the new commitment period along with Russia, who is not continuing with their Kyoto commitment and is pushing for surplus units to be transferred over so they can sell them.
When the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997, Australia lobbied hard for the inclusion of a specific clause on land clearing that allowed it to table one of the weakest targets in the world of +8 percent on 1990 emissions.
And once again, Australia is planning to commit to one of the weakest targets in the world and have also stated In Doha that the “land sector rules must continue” for Australia to be involved with the Kyoto protocol.
For the next commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to be an effective interim framework towards a new global treaty in 2020, there must be no ability for these units to be carried over.
Doing so risks Kyoto becoming nothing more than an empty shell that procedurally incentivises weak targets in the first place. Critics suggest that a lack of carry-over will disincentive achievement above and beyond targets by countries, but this realpolitik view forgets the reason a country would table a target in the first place.
Today in the UN negotiations, developing countries expressed their disappointment with Australia’s weak target.
The least developed countries group have even stated explicitly that Australia’s proposed Kyoto strategy is unacceptable and that carry over units should be outright abolished. Meanwhile, the Africa group represented by Swaziland encouraged Australia to “move to the higher end of their target range without conditions”.
Ultimately, Australia’s target is a drop in the ocean compared to the action of other countries such as Norway and Switzerland.
Not only does Australia need to increase the ambition of their targets, but they must remove their conditions on land clearing and carry-over units.
This will improve the mood of the negotiations and move the world forward into mitigating climate change.
Because the time to mitigate climate change is running out. Once the world hits the tipping point of carbon in our atmosphere, the effects of climate change will become irreversible.
This world needs real action, not the illusion of carbon reduction which carry-over units represent.
But if they are passed during this negotiating round, the only hope for the world is that countries like Australia dramatically increase the ambition of their targets.
It is past the time to take shortcuts.
It is past the time to take shortcuts. Ryan Hyde is a member of the Global Voices UNFCCC Australian Youth Delegation and a student at Swinburne University.
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