Australia and the KP: True Love or a One Night Stand?

30 August 2012


Australia and the KP: True Love or a One Night Stand?

Dear Australia,

I‘ve been waiting for your call for months now. When we first met you gave me flowers and whispered sweet promises and commitments in my ear. Though you’ve taken years to take our friendship further, we have now been seeing each other for a while. I’ve grown to like your company and it hurts that you’ve stopped returning my calls.

I know over the last few years you have had trouble at home – especially with  your ex, Mr. Abbott, complaining that you should not be seeing me any more. But you still haven’t called, even though he sent me a little note recently saying that he’s happy for us to get together.

My good friend the EU has also been talking to you about linking up for dinner (and maybe sharing an Emissions Trading System?). This would certainly be easier if we all went to the same restaurant. Just imagine how awkward it would be if we all accidentally ended up in the same space, sharing the same air, but sitting at different tables. I don’t think the EU will want to have too much to do with you unless you and I are getting on.

Please Australia, it's time you called.

Yours faithfully,


The Kyoto Protocol


Australia and the KP: Time to Come Clean

Many ECO readers will recall the standing ovation Australia received in Bali in 2007 when the newly elected Labor government formally handed over the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. The mood in the room was one of excitement and anticipation.

Fast forward almost five years and the spotlight is again on Australia as we wait with bated breath to see if they will join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Since 2009, Australia has been calling for a “Kyoto-plus” outcome from the current round of negotiations. Yet throughout this year, their negotiators have walked a diplomatic tightrope, refusing to rule Australia in or out of the second commitment period of the Protocol. The official line has been that they need to see all final amendments before they can make up their mind. In ECO’s humble opinion, this is little more than a delaying tactic. Clearly no country should be expected to sign up to an international treaty until they have seen the final wording, but this should not stop them from signalling support in principle.  

If truth be told, the major barrier to the Australian government declaring its support for Kyoto CP2 has been political. As anyone from Australia will tell you, implementing effective climate change policies in the land down under is no easy task, with the two major political parties deeply divided on the best way forward. The Government, therefore, deserves our admiration for persevering with the introduction of a national carbon price in the face of a highly effective scare campaign against such measures.

Yet it appears that the fate of Australia’s involvement in the second commitment period may be separated from the political fight over a carbon price. Earlier this month, the leader of the main opposition party, Tony Abbott, declared support, in principle, for joining the second commitment period. There also seem to be good levels of public support, with a recent poll indicating that close to 60 percent of voters would support Australia joining Kyoto CP2.

The benefits for Australia are obvious. Signing on to Kyoto CP2 would strengthen Australia’s reputation within the negotiations, aligning it with other countries that support a top down, rules-based approach to a global climate deal. It would also remove the risk of being shut out of the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon markets.

Why wouldn’t Australia publicly announce in-principle support? With no obvious political barriers in place, the longer Australia delays, the more it looks like they are using the KP CP2 as a bargaining chip, presumably to extract something in other areas of the negotiations. If indeed this is Australia’s strategy, it is a high risk gamble. As we saw in Bonn in May, the political deal struck in Durban last year remains fragile and the last thing we need is Australia playing hardball with a key pillar of the Durban deal.

The Bangkok talks present a perfect opportunity for Australia to end the speculation and declare its intention to join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This will provide much needed momentum in the lead up to Doha and equally ensure that the spotlight is put back on those countries who are truly opposed to a fair, ambitious and binding global deal.       

Come on Australia, you raised our expectations back in 2007, and just like a new partner, we had high hopes for something more. Will you meet the promise we imagined with starry eyes back then? We’re waiting by the phone to hear your response. Waiting for those two little words: I do.

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