Australia’s climate crisis response has been a topic of discussion for years, with many criticizing the country’s lack of meaningful climate policies. However, the narrative is changing, as Australia now has competing climate stories.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the Labor party has made significant progress in the past 18 months. They have introduced policies and passed two pieces of climate legislation, positioning themselves as a constructive contributor on the global stage. This is evident at the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, where Australia’s climate change minister, Chris Bowen, chairs the umbrella group of countries, including the US, UK, Canada, and Japan. Assistant climate minister Jenny McAllister is co-leading a stream on climate adaptation.
Bowen delivered Australia’s national statement at the conference, highlighting the country’s achievements in the past year. These include an underwriting policy to reach a target of 82% renewable electricity by 2030, a limit on pollution from industrial sites, and offering residency to climate refugees from Tuvalu. The projections also suggest that Australia’s 2030 emissions target, a 43% cut compared to 2005 levels, is within reach. However, Bowen emphasized that there is still work to be done.
One of the major issues at Cop28 is the need to phase out fossil fuels. Bowen has taken a strong stance on this, stating that Australia needs to end the use of fossil fuels in its energy systems. While Australia is transitioning away from coal in its electricity grid, it remains one of the world’s largest fossil fuel exporters. The country allows energy companies to sell coal and liquified natural gas (LNG) to countries in North Asia, generating billions of dollars annually. Greenpeace estimates that proposed coal and gas developments could result in over 20 billion tonnes of emissions, equivalent to 40% of annual global CO2 emissions.
The Australian government argues that it cannot unilaterally end the global fossil fuel trade, as customers would simply source gas from elsewhere. They believe in working together with these countries on a clean transition. However, critics argue that this defense is weak without a clear plan to help these countries move away from fossil fuels.
Australia’s domestic policies also face scrutiny. An analysis by the Climate Action Tracker reveals that the country’s future emissions trajectory relies heavily on an upward revision of how much CO2 will be absorbed by its land and forests. While increased carbon sequestration is positive, scientists caution that it may not be permanent, particularly in a country prone to bushfires and droughts. To truly make a difference, it must lead to a decrease in total CO2 in the atmosphere.
The government has promised plans to cut emissions from sectors such as transport, industry, buildings, and farming next year. However, the debate over Australia’s responsibility to curtail its fossil fuel exports is likely to intensify. Last month, over 100 people were arrested while protesting at the world’s largest coal port, highlighting the growing concern. Australia’s bid to host its own Cop in 2026, alongside Pacific countries, further emphasizes the need for action.
In conclusion, Australia’s climate story is evolving. While progress has been made under the Labor government, there are still challenges to overcome. The country must balance its transition to renewable energy with its role as a major fossil fuel exporter. Domestic policies need to effectively reduce pollution, and Australia’s responsibility to curtail its exports will continue to be a topic of debate. As the world focuses on addressing the climate crisis, Australia’s role and actions will be closely watched.