News | May 19, 1999

Australia Attacks EU Emissions-trading Stand

Australia told the European Union on May 18 it opposed the latter's decision to seek limits on carbon emissions trading under the Kyoto climate change treaty. EU officials said that Australia contended that the EU's position could undermine talks in Bonn starting later this month.

Ministers on May 17, according to a Reuters Wire Service report, rubber-stamped a proposal to restrict so-called "flexible mechanisms," such as emissions trading. The proposal would have each country meet at least half of its reduction targets through domestic cuts in pollution.

Reuters reported a diplomat in Brussels as saying, "Australia feels that a decision along the lines the EU is talking about would restrict the flexibility mechanisms to the point that they would effectively be neutered." The official explained that the EU's proposal would greatly add to the cost of any reduction in pollution.

The 1997 Kyoto protocol calls for the world's industrial powers to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

The EU agreed to a cut of 8% while Australia would be allowed to increase its emissions by an equal amount.

Australia mostly was critical of the timing of the proposal's announcement, which came less than two weeks before the next meeting of climate negotiators in Bonn beginning the end of May.

EU officials described the proposal as an input to practical negotiations, so that everyone will know exactly what they want to achieve.

The U.S. on May 17 also criticized the EU's strict interpretation of the Kyoto accord, accusing the EU of rewriting prior agreements.

Washington warned that the U.S. might not be able to ratify the agreement unless it had flexibility to use emissions trading and other measures to lower the cost of compliance.

Kyoto allows three types of "flexible mechanisms." They are include:

  • trading in licenses to pollute;
  • industrialized working together to meet joint targets; and
  • industrialized countries' receiving credit for helping pollution-reducing schemes in developing countries.