Australia's Hybrid Climate Policy

CANBERRA, Australia, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - Australia followed the United States in declining to ratify the Kyoto climate protocol, and when speaking of curbing climate change, the Australian government uses the language of the United States - measuring its emissions as greenhouse gas intensity. But a statement by Commonwealth officials Tuesday shows the government is trying to keep to the exact emissions limits it would have adopted under the UN treaty.

Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp and Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources Ian Macfarlane welcomed new greenhouse gas emission figures showing that Australia is still on track to meet its Kyoto Protocol target.


Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Greenhouse gas intensity is defined as the amount of greenhouse gases produced per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) rather than the absolute amount of greenhouse gases emitted each year as the Kyoto Protocol requires.

If Australia had ratified the Kyoto Protocol, or if a future government decides to ratify, during the period 2008 to 2012 the country would be allowed to emit 108 percent of its baseline level of carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.

On Tuesday, the Australian Greenhouse Office's 2002 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory showed that national greenhouse gas emissions were 1.3 percent above 1990 levels, despite an increase in GDP of 41 percent over that period, the ministers said.

But Greenpeace Australia climate campaign team leader Dr. Frances MacGuire said the Howard Government is looking "increasingly disconnected from reality" when it comes to climate change.


Coal fired power station in New South Wales, Australia (Photo courtesy Austin GBM)
"Scientists advise that we need to cut emissions by 60 percent by 2050 yet, according to the government’s own figures, emissions from the energy sector are an incredible 30 percent up on 1990 levels and rising rapidly," she said.

Ministers Kemp and Macfarlane said, “These figures indicate the success of the Howard Government's effort in decoupling emissions from economic growth. Australia's emissions per unit of GDP have declined substantially, by 31 percent from 1990 to 2002."

They are within expectations and consistent with projections released last September which show Australia is on track to meet its target of limiting emissions to 108 per cent of 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012, the ministers said.

“The measures we have already taken through our partnerships with government, industry and the broader Australian community are expected to deliver annual emissions abatement of around 67 million tonnes by 2008-12 – the equivalent of taking all of Australia's cars, trucks and buses off the road," they said.

“The report confirms the Howard Government's A$1 billion investment in greenhouse gas programs is working, and achieving significant greenhouse gas abatement compared with business as usual," they said.


Greenpeace Australia climate campaign team leader Dr. Frances MacGuire (Photo courtesy On Line Opinion)
Greenpeace campaigner MacGuire sees the government's position differently. "On the one hand, the government refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it does too little to stop climate change. On the other, it trumpets that Australia will meet its Kyoto target, yet it is failing to take the necessary action to reduce emissions in the longer term," she said today.

“Without this strong investment greenhouse gas emissions would be 123 percent of 1990 levels by 2008-12,” said Kemp and Macfarlane.

Net emissions from carbon dioxide, which account for 70 percent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions, had fallen by 1.9 percent between 1990 and 2002, they said.

Emissions from other sources such as hydrofluorocarbons and nitrous oxide have increased, but the Australian government is taking strong action to reduce emissions from these sources.

“We have already introduced the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 2003, which sets the international standard for managing synthetic greenhouse gases, the major source of hydrofluorocarbons, the ministers said.

“The Australian government is leading action to reduce methane emissions from livestock and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and managed land systems,” they said.

But MacGuire charged that the government has "cut financial support for clean energy and ruled out market mechanisms to deal with the problem."

A decision on the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target was delayed again last month, she pointed out.

The ministers say the Howard government has "invested significantly in renewable energy technologies" and is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy intensive sectors, which are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 67.5 percent of net national emissions in 2002.

The protocol, which sets legally binding targets and timetables for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 37 industralized nations, has not yet taken effect. It will only enter into force after it has been ratified by at least 55 countries, including industrialized countries accounting for 55 percent of their group's 1990 level of CO2 emissions.

Although the protocol has 121 Parties, including the European Community, Canada and Japan, the vast majority are developing countries and it can only become legally binding if Russia decides to ratify.

Still, many nations, including Australia, are using the protocol's target emission figures as their own, whether they are Parties to the agreement or not.