The only value in Australia’s signing onto the Kyoto Accord a month before it comes into effect is symbolic, but not for the obvious reason.
For Canada or the United States, the problem with signing onto the accord (or abruptly beginning to take it seriously) is that both countries would be theoretically committed to major emissions reductions neither would have any hope, at this incredibly late date, of achieving.
For Australia, it’s different.
According to its environment department’s Greenhouse Office, Australia’s greenhouse-gas emissions in 2005 are only 2.2 per cent above what they were in the benchmark year of 1990. (That includes a hefty bonus from changes in land use, so it’s more a benefit of a kind of offsetting than from having found some way to control energy use and factory spewage.) But Australia, rather cleverly, agreed not to reduce its emissions below that level, but merely to contain them to an eight-per-cent increase.
The penalty … not so bad, according to The Australian:
Under the treaty, the nation has a target of restricting greenhouse gas emissions to 108 per cent of 1990 levels during the 2008-12 commitment period.
While the former Coalition Government insisted it was on track to meet that goal, [new Prime Minister Kevin] Rudd is less confident.
“We are currently likely to … overshoot our Kyoto target by one per cent,” he told ABC Radio.
The Prime Minister said the penalty would be set out under the post-Kyoto deal that kicks in after 2012.
It would include a commitment to a further reduction – 60 million tonnes – in carbon emissions plus a 30 per cent penalty added to the subsequent commitment target.
Regardless of the target, a nine-per-cent increase in emissions, using 1990, as a benchmark, would be a pretty enviable record for most industrial countries (the U.K. is a notable exception). Apparently signing and ratifying the treaty brought no particular magic with it.