Australia announces Kyoto II commitment, New Zealand opts out of second phase

By Tierney Smith

Australia will sign up to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, but New Zealand has joined major countries choosing to opt out of a second round of pledges.

The announcement from Australia’s Climate Change Minister Greg Combet comes just weeks before the UN COP18 climate change negotiations in Qatar.

Australia will join the EU and a handful of other nations set to pledge a second phase of emissions reductions, under Kyoto.

The first round of cuts comes to a close at the end of the year, with the new phase set to take over on 1 January 2013.

Australia has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks to sign up to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ahead of the UNFCCC conference

Climate Minister Greg Combet said Australia was making the move as more action was being taken internationally to tackle climate change and to reach a new agreement to replace Kyoto.

“From 2020 we expect all countries – including the United States, the EU, China, Japan, India, Indonesia and South Korea – will be part of a new agreement to reduce emissions,” said Combet.

“This will bring all countries on to the same legal platform to reduce emissions.”

Australia’s participation in a second phase is conditional on access to the Kyoto market mechanisms from next year, and the continuation of land sector rules, he added.

The latest announcement comes the same year Julia Gillard’s government introduced a series of market mechanisms and incentives aimed at tackling Australia’s contribution to global emissions.

The move has been celebrated as sending a powerful signal to the International community that Australia is serious about tackling climate change.

The country is one of the world’s biggest emitters, responsible for 1.5% of global CO2. Its current target is to cut emissions by 5% by 2020, on 2000 levels, but Combet said this could be raised to 25% if there was a stronger global commitment.

Campaigners are already calling for the country to show more ambition.

New Zealand opts out

Neighbouring New Zealand has said it will not sign up for the next phase of Kyoto however.

New Zealand Climate Change Minister, Tim Groser has said the country will join other countries, including the US and China, in a non-binding pledge on emissions under the UN climate convention.

“I want to emphasise that New Zealand stands 100% behind its existing Kyoto Protocol Commitment,” he said. “We are on track to achieving our target.

“Furthermore, we will remain full members of the Kyoto Protocol. There is no question of withdrawing. The issue was always different: where would we take our next commitment – under the Kyoto Protocol or under the Convention with the large majority of economies? We have decided that it is in New Zealand’s best interests to do the latter.”

The announcement follows changes to the country’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) that allows unlimited use of carbon credits, at a low carbon price, to meet targets.

The changes also kept agriculture out of the ETS, despite the sector accounting for around half of New Zealand’s emissions.

Peter Hardstaff, climate change campaigner for WWF-New Zealand has said the announcement has sent a damaging signal to the rest of the world, particularly developing countries, that the country is not serious about cutting emissions.

“We are extremely disappointed that the New Zealand government is not prepared to commit to legally binding action on climate change,” he said. “After gutting the Emissions Trading Scheme, the New Zealand government’s credibility on climate change was already dangerously low.

“Refusing sign up to the second phase of Kyoto leaves New Zealand’s claims to be clean and green in tatters. The government’s approach to climate policy is effectively telling the world we have no intention of reducing our emissions.”

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