AUSTRALIA and other rich countries are under pressure to change rules that allow them to meet climate change targets by subsidising coal plants in poor countries. As about 25,000 delegates began arriving in Durban, South Africa, for the climate conference starting today, United Nations officials suspended rules allowing carbon credits to be generated from the building of “supercritical” coal plants.Under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, credits are created by investing in projects that keep emissions in developing countries lower than they otherwise would have been.
Emitters in the West buy the credits to count towards national greenhouse targets.
Investors in modern fossil fuel plants in poor nations — most notably India — have received credits based on the assumption they were keeping global emissions lower than if older coal technology had been used.
But a UN panel last week accepted advice that rules covering coal plants were flawed and could generate millions of artificial credits. It ordered a halt on approval of new projects while fresh rules were drafted.
More than 20 environment groups have called for a ban on credits from coal plants, arguing climate change measures should not be encouraging fossil fuels.
In Australia, Treasury has estimated nearly two-thirds of the emissions cut needed to meet its 2020 target would come from international credits. The laws for emissions trading after 2015 ban credits from nuclear and large hydro power plants, but are silent on coal.
Responding to the coal suspension, a spokesman for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the government supported efforts to ensure only real, verifiable emissions cuts were credited under international carbon markets.
Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said the International Energy Agency had given a clear warning that continuing to build fossil fuel plants over the next five years would lock in dangerous climate change.
“Major long-lived investments in heavily polluting fuels have no place in the Clean Development Mechanism,” she said. “Greg Combet should … use Australia’s improved influence in the negotiations, thanks to our new carbon price mechanism, to support a ban.”
Coalition climate spokesman Greg Hunt said the government should push for greater transparency in measuring emissions cuts, and that problems with the Clean Development Mechanism showed Australia’s carbon price modelling was unrealistic.