Kyoto carry-over credits ‘baseless’ in international law, experts say

“Kyoto came to an end. Paris is a completely different approach. It’s a new architecture where things start fresh,” said University of Sydney Professor of international law Tim Stephens.

The statement said there was no consensus among signatories to accept carryover credits, and “no provision in the Paris Agreement that refers to the Kyoto Protocol, nor to the units established under it”.

Dean Bialek, a former Australian diplomat who was a negotiator during the 2015 Paris Agreement, said “the government’s legal position is untenable, and further degrades Australia’s international reputation after years of inaction”.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said Australia would only use carryover credits “to the extent necessary” to meet its international obligations.

“It is important that no country is penalised for beating its target, either under Kyoto or Paris – this is the basis for greater ambition,” Mr Taylor said.

China, Brazil and India have not ruled in or out using their Kyoto carryover credits, which were largely gained through the clean development mechanism to boost energy efficiency.

The Paris Agreement does not have strong enforcement measures and it is unlikely Australia would be hit with any penalties. However, the risk comes to international standing and inclusion in emerging markets, which could include bilateral or multilateral trade deals among countries with high ambition for carbon reduction.


Last December at the United Nations’ annual climate change summit in Madrid a bloc of 32 countries – including Germany, France, the UK, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Pacific nations -proposed a minimum set of standards to develop global carbon markets.

The so-called “San Jose principles” would have included a ban on countries’ use of carry-over credits accrued for beating their targets under the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol to meet current climate goals.

Australia is the only country that has said it intends to use carryover credits for its Paris target.

Kyoto credits explained

  • Australia’s carryover credits come from its participation in an international climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions and curb global warming, known as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • The credits are the amount Australia exceeded its emissions reduction target for the first Kyoto period (2008-12) and the projected overachieved for Kyoto 2 (2013-2020). The latest calculation is 128 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent for Kyoto 1 and an expected 283 MtCO-e for Kyoto 2.
  • The Morrison government is counting the surplus towards Australia’s commitment to the 2015 international agreement, the Paris accord, where Australia pledged to cut 2005-level emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030.
  • Australia played hardball in negations over Kyoto targets. It was one of three nations – along with Norway and Iceland – permitted to increase its 1990 emissions by 2020 and was permitted to count savings from reduced land clearing, which has supplied almost all Australia’s Kyoto “over-achievement”.
  • Taken from 1990 to 2012 Australia’s emissions from industry grew by about 28 per cent, but the reduction in emissions generated by land-clearing restrictions dragged Australia’s emissions below the 8 per cent increase permitted. 

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