What you need to know about today’s emissions reduction target announcement.

24.08.15 By
This article is more than 8 years old


Today, the Australian Government announced that it will cut emissions by 26%-28% on 2005 levels by 2030, far below the 45-65% target recommended by the Climate Change Authority (or 40 to 60% on 2000 levels).

There are two key tests for an emissions reduction target:

  1. Is it grounded in science? This would mean Australia is playing its role in keeping global temperature rise below 2°C, which is critical to protecting Australia in the long-term from the worsening impacts of climate change, like more frequent and terrible extreme weather.
  2. Are we doing our bit internationally?

Not only are the targets vastly inadequate to protect Australians from the impacts of climate change, they simply don’t represent a fair contribution to the world effort to bring climate change under control.

Over the last 6 months Australia has attracted significant criticism from our trading partners, including China and the U.S., over concerns that we’re free-riding on the backs of other countries’ efforts to tackle climate change. Former UN chief Kofi Annan said we’re not doing our bit, stating that Ethiopia and Rwanda are even doing more than Australia. Today’s announcement will only reinforce this criticism.

As the 13th largest emitter in the world, Australia is a crucial global climate change player – larger than 180 other countries. We’re also one of the largest consumers of coal per capita, and one of the most pollution-intensive economies in the world. Even if we reduce our emissions by 26% by 2030, we’ll emit 3 times more per person than the UK and 1.5 times more than the USA.

Tackling climate change is firmly in Australia’s national interest – it’s about protecting the Great Barrier Reef, protecting Australians against worsening heatwaves and bushfire conditions, and protecting our coastal communities from sea-level rise.

These targets fall short of the science, they fall short of global action and they fall short of what’s necessary to protect Australians from the impacts of climate change. By every measure, they fail to make the grade.

We’ve pulled together a list of key details that will help you cut through the spin, and get straight to the facts.



1. Why do targets matter?

The Government is setting a target for how much pollution Australia will reduce in the next 15 years. Emissions reduction targets demonstrate how serious we are about tackling climate change and how quickly we intend to drive our economy away from polluting energy sources like coal, towards clean power sources like solar and wind.

Australians are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Hot days have doubled, heatwaves are becoming hotter and longer. Heatwaves kill more Australians than any other natural hazard, particularly vulnerable people like the very old and very young. Setting pollution reduction targets are crucial to tackling climate change.


2. Are the targets announced by the government adequate?

The targets are out of step with the science.

Australia, along with 193 other countries, has agreed that keeping global temperature rise below 2°C is necessary to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

Australia’s leading climate policy advisory body the Climate Change Authority (consisting of top scientists, economists and business leaders) has done the analysis, and found we need to reduce pollution by a bare minimum of 45% on 2005 levels (or 40% on 2000 levels) to give us a reasonable chance of meeting that goal. Unfortunately, the announced targets are about half of what is needed.

Australia is already experiencing damaging climate change impacts with just 0.9°C of warming, including longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves; more frequent and intense droughts; and more frequent and severe high fire danger weather.

These targets are too weak to put Australia and the world on the path of staying below a 2°C rise in global temperature and won’t protect Australians from worsening extreme weather.


Australia is one of the most pollution intensive economies in the developed world, and these targets mean that Australia will remain one of the most pollution intensive economies in the world.


The targets are out of step with the rest of the world.

Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters in the world. For example, on a per capita basis Australians emit more than the Europeans or Chinese. Australia is also the 13th largest overall emitter in the world, larger than 180 other nations.

The targets announced today mean that Australia will:



The Climate Authority analysis mentioned above found that we need a minimum emissions reduction target of 45% on 2005 levels to be in line with our allies and trading partners.

For the full details of how the world is tracking on climate change, check out our latest report, Halfway to Paris.


3. What science is Australia’s emissions reduction target based on?

It’s important that Australia’s climate response be grounded in good science. As we’ve stated above, that would mean a target of a bare minimum of 45% by 2030. The government’s targets are significantly below this, and it’s unclear what scientific basis the government has used to make its assessment.

4. Are other countries on track to meet their 2020 emissions reduction targets?

Many of the world’s economies are on track to meet their 2020 emissions targets. Case in point, the European Union (which comprises 28 countries and some of the world’s largest economies like Germany and the UK) has decreased emissions by 19% below 1990 levels already, and is looking to redouble its efforts post 2020. The European Union has a reduction target of 40% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels.

The U.S., once considered a climate laggard, is now on track to meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets, particularly given President Obama’s recent commitments.

5. Is Australia’s target the same as the U.S?

No. The U.S. has an emissions reduction target of 26-28% by 2025 on 2005 levels. They are aiming to achieve this reduction 5 years earlier than Australia.

6. Is Australia on track to meet its 2020 target?

On current trajectories it’s not clear that Australia will achieve its 2020 target of a 5% reduction on 2000 – the 2014 UN Emissions Gap Report has found that Australia is no longer on track to meet its 2020 emissions reduction target, due to a variety of reasons including a lack of strong domestic policies.

7. Will a strong emissions reduction target damage the economy?

ClimateWorks has found that Australia could achieve a 50% emissions reduction target by 2030 with existing technology and while growing the economy.

In 2014 global emissions stalled whilst the economy grew and nations took action on climate change. The International Energy Agency found that in 2014, for the first time in 40 years, energy-related global emissions of carbon dioxide stalled, while the world’s economy continued to grow. At the same time nations around the world were moving to lower their emissions. For example in early 2014, 144 countries had renewable energy targets and 138 had renewable energy support policies in place.

It’s important to remember that the cost of inaction is extremely high:

The world’s economies are moving and Australia risks being left behind. The world is moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, with more clean energy capacity being added per year than fossil fuels. In fact, by 2030, more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added in comparison to fossil fuels. And all the while, Australia is missing out on the global renewable energy boom.