Australia and climate change
This content forms part of our climate change guide.
Part of a global response
The Australian Government is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.3
Brokered in 2016, the agreement is based on nationally determined contributions to these goals, which are supposed to strengthen over time. For its part, Australia committed to reduce emissions to 26–28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. This commitment is one of the weakest of any developed country.
At Paris, Australia committed to reduce emissions to 26–28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. This commitment is one of the weakest of any developed country, with the pace of change involved set to result in a global warming increase of 3 degrees Celsius — unless a new commitment is made. Prior to the Paris conference, Australia’s Climate Change Authority recommended a 45–65 per cent below 2005 levels emissions reduction target for 2030 based on scientific evidence, the commitments of comparable countries and what would be in the best interests of Australia.
The upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow in 2021 is the next major milestone in delivering on the aims agreed in Paris. Countries are expected to come to the United Nations convention with new and stronger commitments.
Australia’s emissions are headed for an increase of eight per cent above 2005 levels by 2030, meaning our emissions are set to far outpace our already insufficient 2030 target.4
The European Union and a diverse range of countries — including the United Kingdom, Morocco and Costa Rica — are leading the way on reducing emissions.5 For a time, back in 2007, Australia became an influential leader in international forums, our commitments then an important example to others.
Australia’s emissions and our efforts matter
- We emit around 15 metric tons per capita of CO2 each year. The world average is 4.9 metric tons.6
- We are the sixteenth largest emitter worldwide, not including coal and gas exports, and the largest generator of emissions per head of population.
- We punch above our weight in terms of pollution, which means if we take meaningful action, others are more likely to take notice. Our moral influence, our soft power, will be much stronger. And when we fail to act, other laggards also notice and draw comfort.
Achieving policy change
Australia’s efforts to reduce global warming must be accelerated and government policies need to be in place to drive emission reduction and climate change adaptation.
Achieving policy change can seem daunting and it is sometimes tempting to think that a focus on anything other than seeking to influence government policy would be better, given the intransigence of the federal coalition over the past decade.
However, it is important to remember that the Howard government went to the 2007 election promising to introduce an emissions trading and carbon pollution reduction scheme.
All state and territory governments have pledged emission reduction targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This goal is consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Governments that have signed on include coalition governments in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.
Ever more frequent extreme weather events across the country ensure that climate change is on the political agenda. How governments respond to the challenge is directly related to the power of the community calling for strong targets and the roadmap to deliver on those targets.
3. The Paris Agreement is one of the most important steps of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has near-universal membership with 197 signatory countries.
4. See https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/australia/ It is also important to note that claims by the Australian Government of “meeting and beating” our climate reduction targets include the controversial measure of using carry-over credits.
5. See https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/climate-change-report-card-co2-emissions/
6. See https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC