Climate change

The Australian Government accepts the science of climate change and supports national and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. In 2010, governments agreed that emissions need to be reduced to ensure global temperature increases are limited to below two degrees Celsius. All countries, including major emitters, need to play a role in meeting this global goal.

The Government is firmly committed to reducing Australia’s emissions to meet its target of five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. To achieve emissions reductions the Government will implement positive and direct action domestically.

The Government will review its position, considering further action and targets in 2015 as part of negotiations on a new global climate change agreement. This review will focus on the extent to which other nations, including the major economies and Australia’s major trading partners, are taking real and comparable actions to reduce emissions.

Australia and multilateral cooperation

Australia engages with global partners through a range of fora in order to advance international action to address climate change. Strong and effective global action on climate change is in Australia’s national interests.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The main global forum for climate change negotiations is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is a Rio Convention, one of three adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in1992. The UNFCCC entered into force in March 1994 and now has 195 members. UNFCCC members meet annually at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP).

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC, Article 2).

Negotiations in the UNFCCC cover themes which include:

Australia plays an active role in the international negotiations. Australia is the chair of the Umbrella Group which brings together nine developed countries: Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, the United States of America and Australia. Together these countries represent over 30 per cent of the world’s total emissions therefore a global solution to climate change must take account of Umbrella Group countries’ interests.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol (the Protocol) is an international agreement under the UNFCCC that commits developed countries to binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012 and aimed to reduce the collective greenhouse gas emissions of developed country Parties by at least five per cent below 1990 levels. Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol on 3 December 2007, adopting a Quantified Emissions Limitation or Reduction Obligation (QELRO) limiting Australia’s emissions growth over the first commitment period to 108 per cent of 1990 levels.

In 2012, the Protocol was amended to establish a second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. Australia submitted a second commitment period QELRO of 99.5 per cent, consistent with the Government’s unconditional target to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

History of UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) negotiations
Rio 1992
  • UNFCCC adopted at the Rio Earth Summit
Copenhagen 1994
  • UNFCCC enters into force
Kyoto 1997
  • Kyoto Protocol sets targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of developed country Parties
Copenhagen 2009
  • Developed and developing countries pledge to reduce emissions by 2020 under the 'Copenhagen Accord'
  • Set goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C
Cancun 2010
  • 'Cancun Agreement' formalises Copenhagen Accord pledges
  • Agreement to develop new reporting rules – significantly improving the transparency of developing country emissions and actions
Durban 2011
  • Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) created to negotiate by 2015 a new global agreement applicable to all Parties to take effect from 2020
  • Agreement to establish a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020)
Doha 2012
  • thirty-seven countries, including Australia, commit to binding emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period
  • Agreement on a timetable for delivering the 2015 agreement
Warsaw 2013
  • Countries agree to announce nationally determined contributions for the post-2020 period well in advance of the Paris COP, and by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so
Lima 2014
  • Progress towards a 2015 agreement expected
Paris 2015
  • Deadline to complete negotiations of the 2015 Agreement, to be implemented from 2020

The 2015 Agreement

At the Durban COP in December 2011, Parties agreed to establish the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

The mandate of the ADP is to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” (1/CP.17). The agreement is to be completed no later than 2015 and to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.

The ADP is also responsible for a workplan to identify and explore a range of actions to ensure ambitious mitigation efforts by all Parties.

Australia’s submissions

The UNFCCC invites Parties to offer views on issues relevant to the Convention through submissions. Australia has made submissions to the UNFCCC on issues important to international climate change negotiations.

Australia's UNFCCC Submissions 2014
Previous submissions

Australia's previous UNFCCC submissions.

Australia’s submissions are also available through the UNFCCC website, along with submissions from other Parties.

Other international fora

Australia engages in a range of multilateral, plurilateral and regional climate change fora as well as bilaterally with key countries. Australia holds regular climate change discussions at Ministerial and senior officials’ level with key economies and trade partners. It also engages with other countries to share information and develop best practice approaches to greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation polices.

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF)

The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) was launched on March 28, 2009. The MEF facilitates a candid dialogue among major economies to help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome in international climate change negotiations. It also advances concrete, practical climate change initiatives. The 17 major economies participating in the MEF are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

International maritime and civil aviation transport represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are not directly addressed by the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol. Australia works with other countries to address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and civil aviation through two specialised UN agencies: the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Climate Change Experts Group (CCXG)

The Climate Change Experts Group (CCXG) is a joint project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Group brings together technical experts within and outside government including NGOs and the private sector to promote dialogue on, and enhance understanding of, technical issues in the international climate change negotiations.

Australia is engaged with the OECD Private Sector Finance Research Collaborative, which is conducting ongoing work on measuring and tracking private sector finance flows into developing countries.

Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC)

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) is a voluntary partnership of 38 countries and 45 non-government and international organisations working to reduce short-lived climate pollutants. These pollutants include black carbon (soot), methane and some hydroflurocarbons.

Australia’s climate action

An effective response to climate change will require action by all major emitters – both developed and developing countries. Eighteen countries, including Australia, emit more than one per cent of global emissions each year. Together these countries emit more than three-quarters of global emissions.

Ninety-nine countries, including all major economies, have made pledges to the UNFCCC to reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

graph and map representation of 99 countries with pledges under Cancun Agreements
Countries with pledges under Cancun Agreements

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graph of emissions data by country. For description of infographic see text alternative at link below.
Emissions data sourced from Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) version 2.0; cait2.wri.org. 2009 data used. Data does not include emissions from Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

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Australia's pledge

Australia will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. Australia's commitment represents a substantial reduction from business-as-usual. On a range of indicators it is comparable to commitments from other major economies, including the United States, the European Union and China.

Domestic Policy

The Government is committed to meeting its five per cent emissions reduction target. The central element of the Government's Direct Action Plan to reduce Australia's domestic emissions is the Emissions Reduction Fund. The Fund is designed to make a contribution towards the target by providing incentives for genuine, low-cost emissions reductions across the economy.

For more information on the Direct Action Plan and the Emission Reduction Fund please visit the Department of the Environment website.

Abatement task is measured in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e). Source: Department of the Environment (2014); Australia's Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections, p.3

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Australia's reporting

In line with reporting requirements, Australia submits a number of national reports to the UNFCCC. An annual National Inventory Report is prepared outlining greenhouse gas emissions and a National Communications Report is submitted every four years outlining the steps Australia has taken to implement the Convention. A Biennial Report is also submitted outlining progress in achieving emission reductions and the provision of financial, technology and capacity-building support to developing country Parties in the UNFCCC. In addition, Australia has reported on its Fast-start Climate Finance investment package.

Copies of Australia's latest reports are available below and can be found on the UNFCCC website along with reports from other Parties.