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I. Australia — positions of relevance to the UNFCCC process

A. Overview

  • With a population of 26m, Australia accounts for 1% of the world’s emissions, while Australians rank eight highest for emissions per capita. Australians rank first for coal power emissions per capita.
  • Coal is Australia’s largest energy resource. Australia is currently the fifth largest producer, the second largest exporter of coal, and has the third largest reserves of coal in the world.
  • Australia’s reliance on coal power has led to a lack of investment in renewable energy, despite its enormous potential in solar, wind energy, and green hydrogen.
  • Australia has placed efforts to expand its renewable energy export capacity. Scheduled projects, such as the Sun Cable project and Western Green Energy hub, have the potential to significantly decrease carbon emissions in the APAC region.
  • Mining is now the largest contributor to Australia’s economy (accounting for 10 per cent of GDP), it is Australia’s largest source of export income (with a new record high AUD413 billion in resources exports last financial year) and supports over 1.1 million jobs at mine sites and in supply chains across the country.
  • The Albanese government has signaled an intent to accelerate net-zero commitments. On the 14th of September, it passed the Climate Change Act 2022 and the Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Act 2022 (Consequential Amendments Act). These acts seek to reduce net GHG emissions to 43% below 2005 levels by 2030; and reduce net GHG emissions to zero by 2050. Despite its symbolic nature, the bill does not include sustainability mechanisms such as carbon pricing and emissions trading.
  • However, the Albanese government has come under criticism by environmentalists for supporting natural gas expansion, such as the Narrabi gas project, a $3.5billion dollar that will increase supply by half of New South Wales’ current gas consumption.

B. Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)

  • Under Article 4 of the of the Paris Agreement, the new Australian Government under Labor leader Anthony Albanese communicated an updated NDC in June 2022, increasing its ambition and committing to reducing GHG emissions 43% (up from a previous 26%–28% target) below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • It puts Australia on track to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Key measures include:
    • AUD20bn investments to upgrade the electricity grid to accelerate its decarbonisation
    • AUD3bn in a new National Reconstruction Fund to support renewables manufacturing and the development of low emissions technologies
    • A Powering the Regions Fund to support the development of new clean energy industries and the decarbonisation
    • Declining emissions baselines for major emitters (see also below)
    • The application of new standardised and internationally-aligned reporting requirements for climate risks and opportunities.


II. Australia climate change bill

A. Ambition

  • Australia’s climate change bill reflects its NDC communicated to the UNFCCC, with GHG emissions reductions of 43% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Despite the increase in its reduction target, Australia’s ambition remains below that of the EU, UK, US.
  • The Albanese Government — in particular — stopped short of banning new fossil fuel projects (e.g., gas fields and coal mines) in Australia.
  • An existing Safeguard Mechanism subjects facilities emitting more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, to keep emissions below an emissions baseline limit. Reforms to the mechanism are proposed to meet international commitments:
    • Large emitters could have to reduce their GHG emissions gradually by 3.5 to 6% p.a.
    • By July 2023 trading will be allowed under the new system.
    • The bill does not include mechanisms pertaining to carbon pricing and emissions trading.


III. Australia — effects of climate change

A. Early Impact

Australia is already suffering from the very real effects of extreme climate related events.

  • Australian lands have warmed by 1.4°C, while heat extremes have increased. Rising heat extremes are projected to continue.
  • Multiplication of bushfires — worst fires devastated Eastern Australia in 2019 — and floods.
  • High water temperature led to unprecedented bleaching of coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Since 2016, many of Australia’s water storages have fallen below 10%, resulting in adverse impacts upon fish climates.
  • Extreme events such as cyclones, blizzards, and heatwaves are projected to continue with projected temperature rises.