EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has heartily endorsed a decision by Australia to sign up to a second round of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of this year.

“We first linked our carbon schemes, now Australia joins us in the second Kyoto Protocol period,” Hedegaard wrote in a twitter message on 8 November. “Great news! Welcome aboard!”

Any joy in Brussels may be tempered however, by news that Australia’s neighbour, New Zealand, has opted out of a second Kyoto period, and will instead join a separate convention, including large greenhouse gas emitters such as the United States and China.

With new UN climate negotiations due to start in Qatar this month, Australia joins Europe and a handful of other nations engaged in a second phase of Kyoto commitments.

The Doha summit will discuss new targets for the Kyoto process, which should culminate in an agreement by 2015.

“Joining a second commitment period will ensure Australian businesses have access to international credits under the Clean Development Mechanism, helping Australia reduce emissions at the lowest cost to the economy,” said Greg Combet, Australia’s climate change minister.

Australia accounts for around 1.5% of global emissions, but is the developed world's highest emitter per person, due to a heavy reliance on burning coal for electricity.

Despite this, data released last week showed Canberra on track to honour its original Kyoto commitment to limit carbon emissions to 108% of 1990 levels by 2012.

By 2020, Australia has a target to cut CO2 emissions by 5% of its year 2000 levels, but Combet said this could be raised to up to 25% if there was a stronger global commitment.

Australia in July introduced a A$23 (€19) per tonne carbon tax on top polluters, as an interim step towards an emissions trading scheme which will begin in mid-2015. Australia and the EU have agreed to link their trading schemes by 2018.

Kiwi’s abandon Kyoto

New Zealand's abandonment of ‘Kyoto II’ followed changes to its emissions trading system (ETS), which had allowed unlimited use of carbon credits to meet targets at near-record low carbon prices.

The changes also kept out the agriculture sector, which accounts for around half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, from the ETS.

New Zealand Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said a new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 would be set once technical issues had been settled.

Experts said the government's commitment to emissions reductions remained unclear.

"Now that it is out of Kyoto, New Zealand has to announce a serious 2020 target - one that involves it actually reducing emissions and not relying on short-term forest credits if New Zealand wants to be taken seriously on climate action," said Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

Wellington has made a conditional offer to cut emissions by 10-20% below 1990 levels, subject to global progress.