Australia Checkup

Australia—Falling Behind

In 2015, Australia pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% as part of a United Nation’s agreement presented at COP21 in Paris. In making its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the Paris Agreement, the Government said that, “Australia will continue to play our part in an effective global response to climate change. Australia will implement an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.”

A recent report from Climate Tracker (  described Australia’s progress in implementing the Paris Agreement as inadequate. The Citizens Climate Agreement Campaign report also gave Australia’s initial pledge only one of five possible stars. The pledge is clear and unconditional, however it is not as aggressive as needed and calls for reductions at a slower pace than other developed nations.

Australia’s carbon pricing in 2012 initially appeared to signal a bright future for the nation’s environmental initiatives. However, a repeal of that same carbon pricing and political gridlock have slowed efforts to reduce emissions. Political tensions getting in the way of clean energy progress is sharply criticized in a Bloomberg article titled, “How Not to Transform a Power Grid: Lessons From Australia.”

In addition, Australia is redirecting some of its foreign aid budget toward domestic security measures. While the amount is small in relation to its national GDP, these funds could have gone to mitigation strategies for some of Australia’s Pacific Island neighbors who have criticized Australia’s lack of leadership in the region.

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Australia Emission Reduction Policy

Hydrofluorocarbon Phase-Down Policy

In January 2018, Australia plans to adapt a policy that has it’s origins in the Montreal Protocol. The plan will phase-down the use and import of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  This agreement calls for an 85% reduction of HFCs in developed nations between 2019 and 2036.  Australia has adapted a phase-down plan to meet the requirements of the protocol. While HFCs are not Australia’s most abundant GHG, they can have an important impact on climate change. Reductions of even a small amount can have drastic and rapid benefits. One ton of HFCs or CFCs can have a global warming impact that is 10,000 or more times stronger than an equal amount of CO2.  Between this and the ease at which HFCs can be decreased from industry use, addressing the use of HFCs makes for a very practical climate change policy.

This policy has the potential to bring about a huge reduction of GHG emissions both in Australia and in other nations where it is being implemented. There are low or no cost replacement gases that can be used in place of HFCs that do not require significant equipment changes or increases in consumer cost. Additionally, the atmospheric lifetime of HFCs is far shorter than that of CO2 so the turnaround time to start seeing and feeling the benefits of this reduction are much shorter than policies that address CO2.

The reduction in emissions will be achieved through a gradually declining cap on imports and is estimated to achieve up to 72 billion tonnes in carbon dioxide equivalent emission savings by 2050. Although the national policy will start to be implemented in 2018, states and cities have the opportunity to move more quickly in implementing HFC reduction policies of their own and to begin moving the country towards its 85% HFC reduction goal.

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Link to full HFC policy:

Australia Extreme Weather Event

Bleaching Event of the Great Barrier Reef

Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae zooxanthellae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s most iconic natural features, and has been a harrowing representation of the effects of climate change on the country’s ecosystems. The Reef is currently undergoing the largest bleaching event ever recorded, with some reports showing damage to the system at upwards of 90%. The full environmental effects of this can’t be fully known, as such a large and complex ecosystem plays an important role in biodiversity and oceanic conditions. Additionally, there is a cultural loss for Australians and the potential for a decrease in tourism if Reef degradation continues.

The government has formulated a plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the Reef 2050 Plan, which outlines measures that can be taken through 2050 to protect the Reef. The government has outlined 151 actions that can be taken to protect the Reef in the first five years of implementing the plan, and has stated that it is on track with 89% of those actions.

Additionally, heatwaves and wildfires have been increasing both in frequency and intensity.  The human impact of these climatic changes has been felt across the country as people endure extended periods of extreme heat that have already characterized 2017.

The government has put out statements on these events, and acknowledged the many extreme and unusual weather events that took place over the course of 2016. The Australia State of the Environment 2016 Overview was recently released and covers trends and changes from 2011-2016. This report outlines where there has been success in management and environmental policies, as well as areas that have seen increased environmental degradation.

The full report can be found here:

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Australia Media Organizations

Many major media outlets in Australia are skeptical of climate change and climate science in the majority of their coverage of the topic. Coverage in mainstream media can be presented in a way that leaves the subject open for debate, but rarely does it present information showing the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community.  Few news sources have an official stance on climate change, but the majority doesn’t seem to make coverage of the topic a priority.

“Articles in Australia’s two biggest newspapers by circulation, News Corp’s Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, were more than 60% skeptical about anthropogenic climate change. In Australia’s largest circulation newspaper, the Herald Sun, 67% of the articles  reporting climate science did not accept the scientific consensus.”

Broadcast Media

Government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation provides content across all distribution media including radio, television, and online articles. Writer Michael Edwards recently published a piece titled “Humans driving climate change 170 times faster than natural forces, scientists calculate,” which supports anthropogenic causes of climate change. While this information can be found through ABC, the topic of climate change often falls behind other issues in prominence.

Content Sample:

Print Media

The Guardian, which has primarily online distribution, has published pieces strongly supporting the idea of human-caused climate change, and has devoted more coverage than most outlets to covering the topic.  However, the audience tends to lean progressive and they are likely delivering information to people who already support the science of human caused climate change.

Content Sample:

Journalist for the Guardian Paul Mason recently published a piece strongly condemning climate-denial of the right and commenting on increasing pressures on mainstream conservatives to limit commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Guardian is owned by British Media group Scott Trust Limited.

In October 2013, Professor Wendy Bacon produced a report on Climate Science in Australian newspapers. She can be contacted at The report found that there was very little prominent coverage of climate science in Australian media, although some of these questioned climate science. At the time of the report, The Sydney Morning Herald was the most likely to publish prominent climate science articles, all of which supported a consensus on climate science. page 66

The Sydney Morning Herald is owned by Fairfax Media, one of the largest Australian media organizations.  While it has traditionally been a conservative outlet, the Sydney Morning Herald has recently been supportive of environmental initiatives and climate science. Several recent stories feature coverage of the recent moves by the new U.S. administration such as the appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. Coverage of plans to roll back environmental regulations in the U.S. and pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement leans towards being critical of these choices.

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Australia Subnational Best Practices


Canberra/ Australian Capital Territory (ACT)—The region containing the Australian capital of Canberra is one of two Australian signatories of the “Under 2 MOU” agreement, which brings together subnational governments to pledge to reduce GHG emissions in an effort to limit global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius. The pledge commits its signatories to reduce their overall emissions by 80-90% below 1990 levels by 2050. Participation in this type of project, especially from the capital, not only commits to making real and measurable change in the form of emission reduction, but also sends the message that cities and provinces can and should commit themselves to taking action. The Australian Capital was also the highest ranked Australian city in the Arcadis 2016 Sustainable City Index at number 25.
Three factors are considered when listing a city in the Sustainable Cities Index: People, Environment and Profit. Cities that have proven to be livable and show good economic growth prospects without sacrificing environmental sustainability are ranked and analyzed through a variety of factors.  Canberra came out ahead overall, but in the specific sub-index looking at the planet, Sydney was Australia’s highest ranked city.  Sydney’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 70% by 2030 was a key factor in its score.

Contact Information for the Australian Capital Territory
Mail: Access Canberra, Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, GPO Box 158, Canberra ACT 2601
Telephone: + 13 22 81 or 6207 5111.

Contact Information for the City of Sydney
Mail: City of Sydney, GPO Box 1591, Sydney NSW 2001
Street address: Town Hall House,  Level 2, 456 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000


Adelaide—Adelaide has announced a goal to be Carbon Neutral by 2050, and has been successful in achieving emissions reductions even with population and economic growth.  The city has also made a point to identify local risks of climate change including an increase in heat waves and reductions in water supply. There is also a recycled water project underway in Adelaide which can offer some relief in an area subject to drought.

Contact information for the City of Adelaide
Mail: Colonel Light Centre, 25 Pirie Street, Adelaide
Telephone: +61 8 8203 7203
Fax: +61 8 8203 7575

Darwin—Voted Australia’s most sustainable city in 2010, Darwin has implemented several noteworthy environmental initiatives. The City of Darwin encourages “creating habitat” anywhere possible to encourage increased biodiversity—a topic rarely addressed in sustainability and climate action plans. The city also aims to be a leader and model for implementing climate policy and reducing emissions, as stated in their plan Evolving Darwin—Strategic Directions Beyond 2020

Contact Information for the City of Darwin
Postal Address: G PO Box 84 Darwin, NT 0801
Street Address: Harry Chan Avenue, Darwin NT 0800
Telephone: 8930 0300
Fax: 8930 0311


Resilient East “Resilient East” is an initiative between Adelaide City Council, the Cities of Burnside, Campbelltown, Norwood Payneham & St Peters, Prospect, Tea Tree Gully, Unley and the Town of Walkerville.

“The goal of Resilient East is to improve the resilience of our communities, assets and infrastructure, local economies and natural environment so they can cope with the inevitable impacts and challenges of climate change.”   -From Resilient East website

In addition to working to improve the climate resilience capacity of Australian cities, Resilient East has produced several reports that can be used to guide next steps. These reports include a climate action plan, vulnerability assessment, and climate projections report among others.


Northern Alliance for Greenhouse Action (NAGA)
“The Northern Alliance for Greenhouse Action formed in 2002 as a network that shares information, coordinates emission reduction and adaptation activities and cooperates on the research and development of innovative projects.

“NAGA’s goal is to substantially contribute to the transition to a low-carbon future by delivering effective programs and leveraging local government, community and business action.”     -From NAGA website


Climate Action Network (CAN) / Australia
The Climate Action Network works to connect groups across Australia working towards common goals. Their primary goal is to act as a facilitator in cooperation between existing groups and supporting climate protection projects that are already underway.


Australia Leaders and Opponents

Government Official
Josh Freydenberg
Minister of the Environment and Energy
The current Minister for the Environment and Energy is Josh Frydenberg. He heads the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy and was also in attendance at COP22. He is a member of the Liberal Party which plans to double renewable energy production and increase investment in clean energy projects.


Climate Program  Advocate
Tim Flannery
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and Copenhagen Climate Council
Tim Flannery has been one of Australia’s most outspoken environmental advocates. He has worked as a scientist, professor writer and presenter and has been featured on platforms such as NPR, ABC radio and BBC. He was named “Australian of the Year” in 2007 and is well known for his environmental activism as well as his contributions to the fields of mammalogy, palaeontology, and land use.  Tim Flannery has commented on the potential impacts of climate change in Australia and proposed the creation of a fully sustainable city called “Geothermia”. He was able to raise over $100 million towards development of the city, but the project was stopped.

Climate Program Opponent
A Diversified Opposition

Large energy companies also have the ability to sway the position of some politicians and are generally opposed to increased environmental regulation. Previous governments, members of the current government, members of the media, and the Australian right-wing all have members opposing the Paris Agreement. Finding cohesion between these groups has been a bigger barrier to implementation than any single individual.

Australia Leading Research Study

Research Study:  Various studies on the Great Barrier Reef produced by Australia’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP) 2009-2014

The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic symbol of Australia and has been critical is garnering public support for environmental protections in Australia. One of the Wonders of the Natural World, the Great Barrier Reef encourages tourism as well as providing valuable environmental services to the Australian Continent and surrounding areas.

However the Reef is undergoing a massive bleaching event that could threaten its function, beauty, and even existence. The full extent of the Reef’s environmental benefits are not known, but damage to the oceans could occur at an even faster rate if bleaching of the Reef continues. The bleaching event is most likely brought on by changes in the ocean including warmer temperatures, brought on by climate change.

The National Environmental Research Program (NERP) has research projects focused on the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which has been used in development of the Australian government’s Long Term Sustainability Plan for the Great Barrier Reef. The Sustainability Plan was put forth by the Department of the Environment to address concerns and outline a plan for protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

From the Department of the Environment’s website:
“The Australian Government recognises the vital role research plays in delivering effective environmental management, policies and programs.

The National Environmental Research Program (NERP) will provide around $20 million each year for environmental research to improve our capacity to understand, manage and conserve Australia’s unique biodiversity and ecosystems through the generation of world-class research, and its delivery to Australian environmental decision-makers and other stakeholders.”

The research from the NERP is considered “applied public good” research that goes towards the protection and enhancement of the natural world for Australian citizens and posterity.  A 2014 report that was put out on the Outlook of the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding ecosystem graded the health of the system to be “poor” and deteriorating rather than improving. A previous Outlook Report in 2009 had similar findings stating “The dominant pattern in the ecosystem health trends is the absence of any components that are considered to be improving.”

Additional finding from NERP research include:
• green zones (marine reserves) within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park can increase populations of targeted fish species, improve coral health and protect biodiversity, although they cannot prevent reef degradation from such larger-scale disturbances as cyclones, floods, coral-bleaching events, declining water quality and increasing sedimentation.
• the increase in frequency of outbreaks of the deadly crown-of-thorns starfish is linked to the impacts of degraded water quality.
• data about the human use and values of the reef contribute to better informed decisions about the reef as a complex socio-ecological system subject to competing demands.

Despite a recent UN speech by Australian PM Malcolm Turnbell and ratification of the Paris Climate agreement by major GHG emitting countries like China and the US, Australia has yet to ratify the agreement. Political divisiveness and limited political will for action on environmental issues have slowed the progress toward sustainable change in Australia. But the plan set forth to address the Great Barrier Reef is an example of the government’s ability to organize and take action under the right circumstances.

An ecological landmark as significant to Australia as the Great Barrier Reef can be crucial in shifting public attention and policy focus towards protecting the Reef, and hopefully addressing some of the root causes of its declining health.

Learn More about the Great Barrier Reef, The Long Term Sustainability Plan, and the National Environmental Research Program:

Australia Emissions Reduction Policy

Australia: The Emissions Reduction Fund

There is still debate in Australia over how much the government should be involved in developing environmental policy.

Under PM Julia Gillard, a Carbon Tax was introduced. The Carbon Tax was a mandatory tax applied to facilities that emit more than 25,000 MT CO2e scope I emissions annually with some industries such as agriculture being exempt. Gillard and her Labor party have argued that the tax was successful in reducing emissions and the Investor Group on Climate Change claims that companies subject to the tax saw a 7% reduction in emissions. However it was repealed by the succeeding PM, Tony Abbot, and replaced with the Emissions Reduction Fund which is currently in place.

“The Australian Government’s action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions includes the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). The ERF provides incentives for businesses, farmers and land owners to reduce emissions through a range of activities covering Australia’s economy.”
Australian Department of the Environment, Climate Change Division

The Emissions Reduction Fund is a voluntary program in which companies can receive credits from the fund for lowering their emissions. These credits can then be sold back to the government or to other businesses. Companies participate in the program by proposing and implementing carbon reduction measures, which they can then be compensated for through the ERF. Companies can also use carbon credits from the fund’s safeguard mechanism to offset emissions below a baseline determined by the Clean Energy Regulator.

“Projects include storing carbon in native vegetation, increasing soil carbon stocks, reducing coal mine waste gas, waste management, and increasing energy efficiency through activities such as public lighting upgrades or building upgrades. The ERF also includes a safeguard mechanism, which came into effect on 1 July 2016 and limits the growth of emissions for Australia’s top emitting companies.”
Australian Department of the Environment, Climate Change Division

Both the Carbon Tax and Emissions Reduction Fund take a market approach to emission reduction by offering economic incentives-in the form of reward or punishment to lower emissions rather than mandating a set amount of emission reduction.

There have also been supporters of both plans who claim it has had success in reducing Australian GHG emissions, but neither has had a major impact.

While overall emissions and energy demand did show a decrease between 2012 and 2014, it appears to have picked up again, and some estimates project demand to grow by 5% overall by 2018.

Recently, 154 of Australia’s top climate scientists wrote an open letter to the sitting PM, Malcolm Turnbell, urging the government to take action on climate change and develop more effective policies.

At the UN General Assembly in New York, current PM Malcolm Turnbull showed an uncharacteristically moderate side when complimenting the UN’s work and emphasizing that more needs to be done to address current issues, citing ISIS and tension in the Korean peninsula as some of the most serious concerns. Turnbell said, “We need compassion – to assist those less fortunate than ourselves; and to help rebuild communities that have been devastated by war or natural disasters.”

In regards to the Paris Agreement, Turnbell said Australia will make its “best endeavours to ratify” the agreement by the end of 2016, but a specific date for ratification has not been announced.

Longer excerpt from Turnbell’s UN speech:

“The Paris Agreement last year was a shining example of global cooperation for the common good. In a historic display of commitment, over 170 nations signed the Paris Agreement in New York in April.  Even more have submitted plans for action. And Australia will play its part.

We are committed to ratifying the Paris Agreement, and we are confident that we will meet our ambitious 2030 target which will have the consequences of us cutting our per capita emissions by 52 per cent – just as we will meet and beat our Kyoto II commitments.

Australia has also increased the profile of climate change in our overseas aid program – including through our $200 million commitment to the Green Climate Fund—because we know climate change amplifies many development challenges.

We also know that our commitment to action creates new opportunities for innovation and growth, which means more jobs.

We are combining reduction in emissions with strong economic growth – running at 3.3 per cent over the last year, up from 2 per cent a year ago.

Our new Cities Policy too is focused on clean development, enhancing amenity, sustainability and liveability.

And, as the land of droughts and flooding rains, we have learned how to make every drop count and share our experience in water management with other nations, including earlier today here at the High Level Panel on Water.”

Turnbull UN Speech 22-9-2016

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Additional info on the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF)

A more detailed look at Australian emission trends can be found here:

Letter from 154 top Australian climate scientists to PM Malcolm Turnbell:

Australia Energy Production Trends

How The Energy System Is Structured

The energy policy of Australia is subject to the regulatory and fiscal influence of all three levels of government in Australia, although only the State and Federal levels determine policy for primary industries such as coal.

As of 2016, Federal energy policies continue to support the coal mining and natural gas industries. Subsidies for exported fossil fuel use and production by those industries contribute significantly to the earnings of foreign exchange and government revenues.

Federal climate policy changed following the election of the Labor Rudd Government in December 2007. The new government committed to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010, and to expand the mandatory renewable energy target to ensure that 20% of electricity supply in Australia was from renewable sources by 2020.

Sources of Energyaustralia

Using 2013-14 as a baseline year, 31.7% of Australia’s electricity was generated by coal, 38.4% by oil, 24.0% by natural gas, and 5.9% by renewables.

Coal is the oldest export product of modern Australia and its second largest export. The nation’s long history with coal and current heavy dependence on coal for energy make it more difficult to move to more sustainable energy sources. Australia’s first industrial town, Newcastle, was founded on coal. Sydney can also trace much of its development to being a supply port for coal to visiting ships.

While there are environmental and social pressures to move away from coal, there are economic, historical and political pressures competing against them. Australia has the fourth-largest proven coal reserves and the established infrastructure to continue producing and exporting coal for an estimated 110 years for black coal and 510 years for brown coal using current reserves. Although supply is ultimately limited, there is no imminent pressure from the supply side to move away from coal production. Some models predict production and exports of coal to increase through 2035 to maintain or increase Australia’s global market share of coal.2 However, while production is expected to increase or at least be maintained, there are efforts being made to increase the efficiency of coal-fired plants and reduce CO2 emissions as well as research into carbon-capture and storage options. The focus of most major companies seems to be on expansion, not reduction, and given that coal provides roughly 75% of the nation’s energy, companies focused on implementing renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind could have a very tough time breaking into the energy market.

Renewable energy commercialization in Australia is an area of growing activity. Australia’s renewable energy industries are diverse, covering numerous energy sources and scales of operation, and currently contribute about 8–10% of Australia’s total energy supply. The major area where renewable energy is growing is in electricity generation following the introduction of government Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets. The two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, have renewable energy targets of 20% and 25% respectively by 2020.


Profiles of Leading Energy Production Companies

Acconia Energy is a major producer of renewable energy, generating emissions-free electricity from large wind and solar farms and producing 8,600 MW of renewable energy worldwide.

Wind farms are the company’s most common source of renewable energy in Australia with six farms currently operating in the country. It is a privately owned company that started in Australia and has since expanded globally, and it has built its own renewable energy plants and production sites as well as contracted through third parties.

ExxonMobil’s Australian branch is privately owned and produces energy primarily through oil and gas. Exxon does not expect carbon emissions to peak until 2030, but to begin declining after that as a result of decreased carbon intensity of fossil fuels. However, they project energy demand to grow by about 65% by 2040 and plan to play a role in meeting that demand by increasing use of natural gas and working to improve the efficiency of existing technologies.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Hannah Campi

Australia Emission Reduction Challenges

Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources, especially coal; (b) Political opposition to climate change legislation


Emission Reduction Challenges

Australia has a long history of coal mining, and many jobs are tied to the coal industry. This has created concern over the economic effects of moving toward cleaner energy sources. However this could be addressed by focusing on the development of renewables in areas that are currently heavily tied to coal. Coal workers could still be involved in the energy sector through manufacturing and maintenance of other sources such as solar, geothermal, wind and oceanic/tide wave energy capture.

Coal currently provides 73% of Australia’s energy supply, and Australia is the fourth largest producer of coal in the world. Employment in the coal industry directly employs 59,000 people and indirectly employs over 100,000. However, the growth of new jobs has slowed and some existing jobs have been lost mainly due to price declines. One report from the Climate Council stated that reaching 50% renewable energy production by 2030 would lead to 28,000 new jobs but there are still economic concerns about the existing industries and transition to renewables.

Politics also plays a role in reluctance to move forward with the Paris agreement. Conservation and environmental regulation is seen as a political issue divided over party lines. More conservative members of government have established records of being opposed to regulation and may be seen as flip flopping or betraying their constituents if they show support for increased regulations, especially those that come from an external source, i.e., the Paris Agreement.

Once environmental concerns have become a partisan issue it can be difficult to move forward on proactive environmental legislation. However, a greater effort could be made to show that responding to environmental concerns is not at odds with some of the core values of conservatism in order to gain the support of Australians who may have political reasons for opposing the Paris Agreement.

–Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Hannah Campi


Useful Resources