Australia Institute Report Exposes How Morrison Is Cooking The Books On Emission Targets



Nero was known to fiddle while Rome burned. And then there’s Scott Morrison and the Liberals on climate change… a whole new category of political failure and denial. Chris Graham explains.

At the very least, it’s confusing. On the one hand, the Morrison Government (and the Turnbull and Abbott Governments before it) keep saying Australia will meet its commitments to the COP21 climate talks in Paris in 2015.

And then lots of other people and organisations – most notably, people and organisations who, unlike our government have credibility when it comes to climate change – are saying that we won’t.

Our emissions are rising, say the experts. No they’re not, says the Australian Government.

Obviously, most people just assume the Australian Government is lying. And in reality, they are. But how exactly are they getting away with it? And why aren’t they being properly horsewhipped in the Australian mainstream media for it?

Well, lazy reporting plays a big part, but also there’s a bit of clever accounting, enough to make major media outlets pause for thought, and then retreat to their default positions, which is to favour conservatism and ‘at least try and appear balanced’ by not not doing their jobs.

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But a new report from Canberra think-tank The Australia Institute sets out to expose that dodgy accounting. A summary below fleshes out how they do it, but long story short: We’re relying on ‘carryover credit’s from the Kyoto agreement (1997, which Howard signed) which are the result of an old and abandoned accounting practice.

In other words, we’re cheating.

The report comes in the wake of a new International Panel on Climate Change report this week, which ranked Australia stone motherless last out of almost 60 countries in their action to tackle climate change.

That’s obviously highly embarrassing, but then this is a government that can stare through the smoke and haze of multiple bushfires (outside the bushfire season) without batting an eyelid, while claiming it’s doing its part to tackle the causes.

Anyway… over to the Australian Institute.

“According to a new report released today, rather than reduce its emissions today Australia is claiming it can rely on ‘credits’ generated decades ago under old accounting rules in a separate treaty that have no place in the Paris regime.

The report commissioned by the Australia Institute from Climate Analytics, examines the nature, scale and legal implications of Australia’s proposed use of ‘Kyoto carryover’ credits to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Key findings:

• There is currently no legal basis for the ‘carryover’ of pre-2021 units from the Kyoto Protocol for use under the Paris Agreement. The Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement are separate treaties. 

• Even within its own legal framework, the Kyoto Protocol does not permit the carryover of units or underlying reductions beyond the 2013-2020 second commitment period.

• Most of the claimed ‘overachievement’ derives directly from the fact that Australia had substantial domestic deforestation emissions in 1990. It would be perverse to reward Australia in 2030 for the existence of large-scale deforestation that took place 40 years earlier.

• So called ‘overachievement’ can also be said to come directly from Australia’s decisions to allow itself an increase of 8% in its emissions in the first Kyoto commitment period compared to 1990 levels and a minimal 0.5% reduction for the second period. Having chosen far less ambitious targets than other countries Australia is now claiming to have ‘overachieved.’

• Efforts to seek recognition under the Paris Agreement for these historical artefacts as ‘overachievement’, in an effort to minimize future mitigation efforts, would be antithetical to the goals and principles of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia has itself subscribed as a Party.

• Australia’s exploits to water down its climate action through loopholes would only encourage other countries to follow suit.

• Were Australia to succeed in using carryover credits in the way it has proposed it would reduce Australia’s 2030 target from 26% to only a 14.3% reduction below 2005 emissions levels using 2018 projections (the cut is even greater under 2019 projections).


“The Paris Agreement is a new and separate treaty, to start afresh to take ambitious climate action going forward and there seems to be no legal grounds to import questionable credits from past treaties” said His Excellency Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati.

“If Australia has overachieved, then it means it has the capacity to do more, not less.

“Australia is on fire due in large part to climate change and it is beyond me why the Australian Government is looking for ways to weaken the Paris Agreement so it and others can do less to solve the climate crisis. 

“If Australia really believes it is a member of the Pacific family, and cares about its own people, then it should stand in solidarity to ensure the integrity of the Paris Agreement.

“This is about the real impact of what we are all trying to achieve here. Are we trying to work together or are we just shifting numbers?

“We are not even on track to limit global warming to 1.5, and it is not right that some countries are looking to do less. It is important that Australia shows leadership in the most challenged region in the world.”

“Australia’s emissions from electricity, transport and industrial production are still rising but Australia is claiming it will meet its Paris commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent by relying on a range of complicated accounting tricks” said Richie Merzian, climate & energy director at the Australia Institute.

“Australia has always demanded an easy ride at international climate talks. Back at Kyoto in 1997 Australia demanded what became known as ‘the Australia clause’ which redefined land clearing in a way that made Australia’s emissions targets very easy to meet. And then of course back in Kyoto when other countries were committing to reduce emissions we set our target as an increase in emissions of 8 per cent. But our latest demands are our most outrageous.

“Having distorted the rules in the past, and having previously demanded some of the least ambitious targets in the developed world, the Australian Government is now arguing that because we ‘overperformed’ against past benchmarks we should gain some ‘credit’ for this in the future.

“This research makes clear that there is no scientific, moral or legal foundation for the Australian Government’s determination to gain credit for its historic recalcitrance.

“Australia’s determination to build new coal mines and ignore the link between enormous bushfires and climate change has already diminished its credibility at these talks, but demanding the right to use the land clearing practices of the 1990s as a substitute for burning less coal today is a bridge to far for the vast majority of the countries gathered in good conscience at this COP.”

“It is a serious concern that the Australian Government continues to employ dodgy accounting in order to evade action and actually reduce its emissions,”said Dr Bill Hare, report co-author and head of Climate Analytics. 

“There is nothing to be proud of claiming credits for action that never happened under the Kyoto Protocol so that Australia can bludge off the efforts of others, nor, as the report shows, undermining the Paris Agreement by demanding legal recognition for emission units that do not belong to it.”


Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.