Defining Australia's new Kyoto target Media Brief

Nov 23, 2012 - 11:08am

The Government’s decision to give in-principle support for a new international obligation under the Kyoto Protocol will help bolster international efforts to secure a new legally binding agreement to cover all major emitters by 2015. A second round of targets under Kyoto is a critical lever to achieving a new legally binding agreement that covers all major emitters. 

Building on this positive announcement at the next UN climate summit that starts in Doha next week, Australia needs to:

  • Include the full bipartisan-supported 2020 target range in the Kyoto Protocol; and
  • Define a credible, flexible and interim QELRO Kyoto 2 commitment that takes advantage of the “Kyoto Bonus” from rule changes and over-achievement of generous first target. 
Australia should include Australia’s full bipartisan supported 5-25 per cent target range in the Kyoto Protocol. While the Government has acknowledged that the full target range remains on the table, a commitment to the full target range in a press release is not the same as a commitment in a legally binding treaty. By putting the full target range into an international legal framework, the Government will build international confidence in the ability of Australia’s carbon laws to achieve their goals and that the Government is sincere in its commitment to do its fair share to a world working to avoid dangerous climate change (Figure 1). 

Australia should define a credible, flexible and interim Kyoto commitment until it makes its final decision on 2020 ambition in 2014. Among the more than 30 other developed countries committing to the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, almost all are setting targets that are more ambitious than their earlier targets. A commitment that sees Australia’s emissions continue above 1990 levels would not be credible domestically or internationally. 

Kyoto commitments (or QELROs) are defined differently to the 2020 targets generally referenced in public debates. Kyoto targets are effectively average emissions over a defined period not emissions in 2020 and can be calculated in a number of ways. 

The possible range of Kyoto targets based on Australia’s minimum unconditional (5 per cent) commitment or the emission reductions implied by domestic legislation suggest a new commitment that ranges from 97-102 per cent of 1990 levels. 


The stronger commitments see Australia taking full advantage of Kyoto’s accounting rules. This ‘emission bonus’ exists because Australia will overachieve its generous first commitment period Kyoto target and because Australia can gain additional credit from policies to increase the uptake of carbon emissions in our managed forests. 

Figure 2 illustrates Australia’s first commitment period and possible second commitment period targets to those of other advanced economies that have signaled they will take on Kyoto commitments. Even countries that, like Australia, were allowed to increase emissions in the first commitment period have pledged to reduce their emissions below this level to 2020.  

Figure 3 illustrates the percentage reduction in emissions from the first to the second commitment period. The Government has used this as a key criterion for the comparison of country efforts.[4] Commitments put forward by other advanced economies on this basis are more ambitious than Australia’s efforts.


For more information

Erwin Jackson  | Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute | 02 8239 6299
Kristina Stefanova | Communications Director, The Climate Institute | 02 8239 6299

To find all other related briefs, media releases, opinion pieces and video blogs visit the COP18 project page here. This page will be updated continually during the climate talks. 

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