Australia Must Say Yes To Kyoto – Again


The UN climate negotiations began on Thursday in Bangkok, and it seems that whether it comes to carbon markets or the Kyoto Protocol, Australia’s been on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

Almost everyday, developed and developing countries alike have been openly asking why Australia hasn’t signed up for a second commitment period and now it’s coming to a head.

Before the opening speeches were even made there were whispers of "Australia joining the Kyoto Protocol 2" and negotiators from the EU "urging" Australia to join. Negotiators from Brazil, Bolivia, Barbados, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Nauru, and the DRC have been demanding it — Australia’s ambiguity over its second commitment period status is haunting these negotiations.

If anything’s going to happen this year in terms of climate change on the international level, there needs to be progress made here. As you can imagine, legally binding decisions on climate change, like Rome, aren’t built in a day. Hopefully the foundations will be laid here in Bangkok over the next week.

Last year in Durban it sounded like we had already done just that. There it was announced that all countries, developed and developing alike, had agreed to develop globally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2015, to be acted upon by 2020. But it was only an agreement.

Here in Bangkok, negotiators are attempting to decide what the targets might look like, and how ambitious they might be. But in order to do that, there are a number of loose ends they need to tie up, such as achieving the goals outlined in the Bali Action Plan, and synchronizing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol was officially ratified by Australia in 2007, and concluded its "first commitment period" in 2012. Last year, European nations jumped on board a second commitment period. But Australia, Russia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand weren’t so keen. Nowadays they are known by the Climate Action Network as "ship jumpers".

It seems that Australia will play a big role in whatever progress is made on two key fronts: carbon markets and the Kyoto Protocol.

The first of these issues has really jumped out of nowhere, but only two days before the conference began, Australia announced that it had made plans with the EU to link its Carbon Price with the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme in a unified carbon market by 2018. This has offered a great deal of hope for many negotiators here in Bangkok that an international market for carbon will become a reality.

On day two of the negotiations, a roundtable discussion was called to talk about carbon markets and how they might fit into a post-2020 international climate regime. The self-confessed "carbon market nerds" in the room were euphoric about this announcement, and it has given a much-needed signal to developing nations that developed countries are doing "something" to combat climate change.

But it has also garnered questions from a number of the NGOs here who are worried that linking with the EU’s variable ETS might damage the strength of our fixed price. And there are concerns that the EU’s superior carbon credit certification schemes might be damaged by linking with ours.

The Australian delegation told me that while things are still being worked out, the hope is that by linking the two, both schemes will develop through a mutually beneficial market evolution, what the EU has called a "virtuous cycle", rather than devolve into the lowest common denominator of cheapest possible fit.

The other question is whether Australia and New Zealand will continue to commit to the Kyoto protocol. Australia and New Zealand were seen as key commitment keepers in a climate of abandonment. At the time, we blamed the "domestic political environment". But two weeks ago, even the liberals got behind the idea as Liberal party climate spokesman Greg Hunt, gave his "in principle" backing to signing up for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

The domestic politics argument should no longer be an excuse. Signing onto KP2 could solidify it and alleviate feelings that we are "doing it alone" by demonstrating how our domestic commitments are feeding into the international regime.

As the Solomon Islands delegation stated, "Australia and New Zealand have both talked a lot about ‘building confidence’, but how can they ‘build confidence’ when they have not yet made any commitments under the second Kyoto Protocol".

On Monday a delegate stressed his concern to me that "a number of parties here are making a lot of things contingent here at the negotiations instead of treating different negotiating tracks on their own merits".

The Durban Platform last year was presented as a package that included both developing nations’ increasing ambition and the continuation of the second Kyoto Protocol. That was the promise made to developing nations that gave the "the confidence" that they could enter the Durban Platform as a globally binding agreement.

So it is understandable that developing nations feel that the KP2 is hot air from the EU, without the commitment of key nations such as New Zealand and Australia.

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