Australia’s Deceptive Kyoto Target

According to a media release (11 Dec 1997) by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Kyoto Protocol is defined as;

The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to the year 1990 (but note that, compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol, this limitation represents a 29% cut). The goal is to lower overall emissions of six greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons – averaged over the period of 2008-2012. National limitations range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland.”

Australia’s greenhouse gas target as specified by the Kyoto protocol is 108% of 1990 levels by the year 2012. That is an increase, yes an increase my friends! We were the only country besides Iceland (110%) that were allowed an increase in greenhouse gasses (GHG) during the foundation of the treaty. It was known at the time as the “Australia Clause” and was allowed due to the Australian delegates claim and dogged insistence that Australia had undergone extremely high levels of land clearing in 1990, which meant that our baseline was quite high compared to other countries.

That aside, the basis of the protocol is to reduce GHG, that have been found to cause man-made climate change with an increase in global temperatures. I have written about climate change in many of my blogs posts. Our leadership at the time went against the tide, citing that the protocol would cost Australian jobs, due to our high levels of trade with countries such as China and India who did not have any reduction obligations. They also claimed that the Australian Government had pledged funds in their budget to combat climate change. So to keep the Australian delegates at the negotiation table, the rest of the world allowed us to increase our emissions during 1990 to 2012.

What a sham, and such narrow minded thinking. We, as a nation, have been allowed to continue spewing GHG into the environment, without any strategy or incentive to decrease our national emissions. We were the biggest emitter on a per capita basis back in 1990, and we still are today. Sure, we have reduced our per capita emissions by 13.8% from 32.6 to 28.1 tonnes CO2 equivalent, but only because our population has increased. Nothing has changed in 12 years since the protocol was formulated, with little incentive to cut our emissions, and certainly nothing forced upon us by legislation from the Australian government. As I stated in my previous post, the Emissions Trading Scheme will change all of that, but, oh my god, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, or in the case of Victoria, no water because of our states reliance on brown coal to provide the population with electricity (and of course because of a bloody long drought).

So what has happened since 1990? Well this table says it all. I have taken the data from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2006, which was release this month;

Emissions Mt C02-e

Percent change in emissions



1990 – 2006





Stationary energy








Fugitive Emissions




Industrial Processes












Land Use Change








Australia’s Net Emissions




To read the full report, click here.

We have increased our emissions by 4.2% and still have 4 years remaining before the end of the protocol. The only category that has really saved our bacon has been Land Use Change, and if we weren’t allowed the “Australia Clause” during negotiations, we would have increased our emissions by at least 50%. That is a dreadful result, and one the we as a nation should be ashamed of. However, seeing that the USA is still to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, we shouldn’t feel too bad. Why would the worlds single biggest emitter of GHG want to sign something that would actually make them act, and change from the business as usual situation they are in? And as for China and India, the next emissions treaty needs to include them, and in fact all nations of the world, or it will just be a worthless piece of paper.

One can only hope that with the change of government in November, the USA will act, and act swiftly to reduce their emissions. Now, as for Australia, I can only hope that the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme due to be implemented in the next year or so, will have enough teeth to force all sectors to reduce emissions drastically, without the flow-on effect of punishing the low income workers. I have read that the government will ensure that scheme takes care of the so called working family. You can read about it here. If ETS is a toothless tiger, we are not in for a good time in the next 20 years. The planet will make sure of that!

So all in all, a disappointing effort regarding climate change for Australia, and as an Australian, I am ashamed. The European Union seams to be pulling out all the stops to attempt to meet their allocated target. If they can reduce their emission, I am sure as hell, we can. At least in the transportation sector we will see a reduction due to the escalating price of oil!

Scientists claim that the efforts of climate change are accelerating, and that we have even less time to reduce global GHG emissions. I dare say that once the summer Ice cap on the Arctic Ocean is gone, the effect will speed up even more. Fingers and toes crossed, and with some concerted effort on mankind’s behalf, we may avert the catastrophic climate change that threatens our existence.

If it were not for Hopes, the Heart would break.
– Thomas Fuller.


  1. Anonymous says

    Hi there. Very true what you say about our emissions targets. I’m disappointed that the common thought is that the now developing nations should suffer (in emission targets) just as much as the already developed nations, even though the majority of the damage was only done by the latter. It is effectively condemning these under developed countries to poverty because have neither the resources nor money to switch to green options AND maintain the economic growth needed to pull itself out of the ‘3rd world’ status.
    I recommend reading ‘Scorcher’ by Clive Hamilton or ‘High & Dry’ by Guy Pearse (i have no links with these books but read and found them very insightful) for a view of how politics plays an enormous role in what Australia will do in the fight against climate change. It will be interesting to see if/how things are challenged under the new government.

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