From the get-go, Australia has used every trick in the book to avoid any meaningful contribution to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Under Kyoto, each nation was assigned a target – measured against the nation’s specific baseline of emissions produced in 1990. Our negotiators argued that our dependence on fossil fuels and energy-intensive exports meant cutting emissions would be difficult and negotiated that, instead of reducing our emissions, we would limit the increase to 8% above 1990 levels by 2012.
We also demanded the inclusion of what has come to be known as ‘the Australia clause’ which allows Annex I parties to include greenhouse gas emissions from land use change in 1990-base year calculations. This is important for Australia because, in 1990, national forestry and land clearing activities represented net sources of emissions. Reducing these activities from what they were in 1990 therefore counts as an emission reduction, without actually reducing direct emissions.
Forest clearing in Australia plummeted after 1990, when Queensland enacted tough new land clearing laws. So including deforestation emissions in Australia’s baseline meant we would never really struggle to meet – or as it turned out, beat – our targets. In fact, the rule effectively rewarded Australia for its mass deforestation in 1990.
The latest quarterly report shows that, if we exclude these dubious LULUCF reductions, we have actually increased emissions by over 15% since 1990.
As it turned out, we overshot our 2012 ambition, increasing our emissions by 3% rather than 8%. Any surplus emissions reduction in the first Kyoto period could be carried over to the second period, from 2013 to 2020, though several countries voluntarily cancelled their surplus credits. We did not.
The 2012 Doha Amendment, where the baseline year is 1990, set Australia’s 2020 target as a 0.5% reduction in emissions. The Abbott government redefined this to a 5% reduction on 2000 levels including the carry-over from the earlier period.
Changing the base year is another sneaky trick from the government to look like we are doing something when we are not.
Our commitment to the Paris agreement was for our 2030 emissions to be 26-28% below 2005 levels. To illustrate the difference that the change of base year to 2005 makes, the latest report states that Australia’s annual emissions for the year to September 2021 are estimated to be 10.1% below emissions in the year to September 2000 and 19.821% below emissions in the year to September 2005. Hey presto.
Nothing epitomises the Coalition’s fruitless time in government more than the spin they have put on emissions reduction.
Fiddle the books, throw in some slogans, hold up a brochure, claim credit for what others are doing, cast doubt on the experts, bleat about how disastrous it would be to actually do anything – all whilst vehemently saying that you won’t be lectured to by unelected faceless bureaucrats as you do the bidding of fossil fuel lobbyists and donors.
The people have elected a parliament with a clear mandate to take urgent action on climate change. The government must heed our voices and increase their ambition.
It’s time to get real.
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