How is Australia meeting its legal obligation to combat climate change?

The steps taken to mitigate the effects of climate change today will play a huge part in everyone's quality of life in the future

How is Australia meeting its legal obligation to combat climate change?

What is Australia’s real legal obligation to combat climate change? And how is it doing?

The 2020 Climate Change Performance Index reported that Australia is ranked the worst-performing country on climate change policy out of 57 countries, garnering the lowest possible score of 0.0.

The latest Guardian Essential poll also shows that an increasing number of voters think that Australia is not doing enough to reduce the risks of climate change and that more people see a direct connection between warming and bushfires.

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The study found 60% of the sample voters believe that the country should be doing more to combat climate change, which is up from 50% in March 2019.

What strategies and bills have Australia approved and endorsed to reduce the ugly effects of climate change?  Do you think these are enough?

  • Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol

In 2007, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s first official act was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty adopted in Kyoto, Japan on 11 December 1997 and was entered into force on 16 February 2005. It aims to reduce greenhouse emissions and mitigate climate change in the future.

The protocol also encourages Annex 1 countries – which includes Australia, Denmark, the European Union, France, New Zealand, USA, and other first world countries – to reduce their release of greenhouse gasses (GHG).

Developed countries are recognised as “largely responsible” for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. The protocol places a heavier burden on these countries under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.”

The Kyoto Protocol’s First Commitment Period (CP1) ended in 2012, and Australia has exceeded its target of 108% 1990 emissions levels by 2012.

The protocol’s Second Commitment Period (CP2) started in 2013 and will run until 2020. Changes made to the Kyoto Protocol were finalised at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Change Conference held in 2012 in Doha, Qatar, which led to the name the “Doha Agreement.”

In the Doha Agreement, Australia has a 2020 target of 99.5% quantified emission limitation or reduction commitment.

  • Committing to the Paris Agreement

Australia signed the Paris Agreement, a landmark agreement reached in 2016 to fight climate change. The agreement aims for all parties (175 countries signed the deal) to exert their best efforts to “nationally determined contributions” and to strengthen their efforts in the years ahead.

Australia has a proposed target to reduce gas emissions to 26 to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030. However, the Climate Change Authority endorses a 30% reduction from 2000 emissions levels by 2025.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment, the country is taking a “strong, credible, and responsible” commitment to the Paris climate change conference.

However, while the government continues to report that Australia is on track to meet its target, the Climate Action Tracker declares that there is no scientific basis that would support this claim.

The United Nations also declared in its Emissions Gap Report 2018 that there has been “no improvement” in the country’s climate policy since 2017.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the UN in 2018 that Australia was doing its best to address the climate problem and is “balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and our economic future.”

Further, Australia has also decided to go for its controversial decision to use “carryover credits” to meet its Paris Agreement commitment. These credits represent the amount of carbon dioxide by which Australia has “beaten” the targets set under the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Considering an official Climate Change Bill

An 8 January 2020 news article by The Guardian reported that independent MP Zali Steggall is finalising the draft legislation for a “national climate change framework,” which aims for Australia to shift to a decarbonised economy.

The bill, modelled after the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, also mirrors the framework laws in New Zealand and Ireland. Additionally, as posted in Steggall’s blog post, this proposed national framework will ensure that Australia has:

  1. A positive response to the challenges of climate change;
  2. National plans for adapting to a changing climate;
  3. National plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and
  4. Transparent monitoring, reporting, and accountability.

 “My goal is to make sure all the people worried about bushfires and climate change, and drought and planning and agriculture in regional areas, and air pollution in urban areas – that they all be aware that this is on the table, and that this is an opportunity,” Steggall told The Guardian.

If this bill is passed, it will authorise Australia to take  an immediate response to the challenges of climate change.

  • The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF)

The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is a government strategy that provides financial incentives to individuals or organisations to utilise new business practises and technologies to reduce their GHG emissions.

ERF is a voluntary scheme where participants can earn Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) for every ton of carbon dioxide they store or avoid emitting.

Additionally, this program enacted through the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011, the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Regulations 2011 and the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Rule 2015.

While the ERF does not provide funding to participants, ACCUs can be sold, which can generate income.

For effectiveness, the Climate Change Authority stated that the ERF has been “performing well,” as it creates incentives for new emissions reductions at low cost. These new domestic emissions reductions contribute to Australia’s goals under the Paris Agreement.

To apply, there are four steps in the application process:

  1. Register yourself and your project with the Clean Energy Regulator;
  2. Bid at an auction to secure a contract with the Clean Energy Regulator;
  3. Run your project and provide project reporting and auditing when scheduled; and
  4. Be paid for the ACCUs sold.

For more information about ERF, visit

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