The Morrison government intends to use the credits from the Kyoto period to meet its obligations under the subsequent Paris agreement, a key reason it has promised a 26 per cent reduction by 2030 despite recent increases in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The issue is highly sensitive within the opposition because any decision to rule out using the credits would require stronger action to achieve the party’s 45 per cent target, exposing Labor to attack from the government over the cost of the pledge.
The Labor environmental group, an influential force in Labor policy on climate change over the past decade, has slammed the Morrison government for using the credits and wants to ensure a Labor government does not do the same.
“This isn’t a clever accounting game,” LEAN co-convenor Felicity Wade told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“This summer has shown that emission reductions need to be real. Using carry-over credits makes the Coalition’s already inadequate targets laughable.
“As for Labor, Australia needs to deliver a 45 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 in order to be serious about doing Australia’s part in keeping global warming below two degrees.
“We are either fair dinkum or not. There is no point in fudging the target with tricks reliant on treaty semantics.”
Ms Wade noted that 380 Labor branches called on the party to adopt the 45 per cent target, a sign of the sentiment among members about action on climate change.
Australia negotiated special arrangements at the UN summits to claim the carry-over credits from exceeding the targets set for the country in the first phase of the Kyoto protocol, to 2012, and the second phase, from 2012 to 2020.
Australia is entitled to claim the credits under the agreements reached in the past but other countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, have given them up in order to show they are taking firm action.
The credits were a point of contention at the annual United Nations climate summit in Poland last year and are expected to be negotiated again at the next summit in Chile in November, with a decision that could decide whether Australia is entitled to claim them.
Labor caucus members are divided on the question, with some arguing Australia is entitled to use the credits under the international negotiations over many years.
Others believe it is unfair to use the credits and better to set a more ambitious target to reduce emissions, even if this provides ammunition for the government in its warnings against the Labor target.
Environment Minister Melissa Price last week claimed the “reckless” 45 per cent target would cost the economy $472 billion and slash more than 336,000 jobs, an estimate Labor rejects.
Ms Price rebuffed questions on Tuesday about the increase in Australia’s carbon emissions over several years, which rose 0.9 per cent to 536 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent in the 12 months to September.
“I’m focused on the good news,” Ms Price said, arguing that emissions were down in the most recent quarter.
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.