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Chronology of climate change in Australia


The Parliamentary Library has published a timeline of climate policy in Australia. The chronology begins in the 1970s, around the time that the Australian Academy of Sciences published a report asserting that human activities are likely to contribute to warming. The document charts the journey of Australian climate policy from then until today.

The chronology reminds us that in the 1980s Australia considered an emissions reduction target of 20% on 1988 levels by 2005. This target was indeed adopted but only as a 'no regrets' strategy, under the proviso that the reduction would not be at the expense of the economy. A decade later, emissions had continued to rise but the government warned that 'adoption of a uniform reduction target at the upcoming Kyoto conference would have a devastating impact on Australian industry and its ability to create jobs’.

Instead of an absolute emissions reduction target, Australia decided in 1997 to adopt the 'Prime Minister's Package', a series of funding measures and strategies targeted at reducing the carbon footprint of various sectors. This included the concept of a renewable energy target, where an extra 2% of electricity would be sourced from renewables sources by 2010. The Package was to be administered by the Australian Greenhouse Office, a brand new government agency dedicated to greenhouse gas emissions reduction--a world first.

The Australian Greenhouse Office subsequently went on to release four discussion papers on emissions trading. These discussion papers broadly outlined the principles and framework for how an emissions trading system might operate; the allocation and duration of permits; how carbon sinks might be included; and how emissions would be monitored and reported. But progress was slow, and in 2000 a Senate Committee report criticised the Government for a lack of commitment to climate change policy, and made more than 100 recommendations on how to improve. The Government rejected the findings of the report.

Fast-forward to December 2013; the last 13 years of Australian climate policy have included:
  • The beginning of the 2% Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme and the increase of that target to 20% by 2020
  • Australia repeatedly refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and then finally joining in December 2007
  • The announcement of a new climate strategy, the Greenhouse Challenge, to succeed the PM's Package
  • The proposal  for an emissions trading scheme presented to Cabinet in 2003, but rejected
  • The end of the Australian Greenhouse Office in 2004
  • The establishment of a Prime Ministerial Task Group on Emissions Trading and the release of its Shergold Report in 2007, recommending an emissions trading scheme for Australia
  • The beginning of the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme in 2007
  • The creation of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, also in 2007
  • The release of the Garnaut Review on climate change in 2008 and its update in 2011
  • The creation, debate and ultimate rejection in 2008-09 of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Australia's first tailor-made emissions trading scheme proposal
  • The creation in 2010 of a Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to discuss and propose a new emissions trading scheme for Australia
  • The passage in 2011 of the Clean Energy Act 2011, legislation for an Australian emissions trading scheme; and with it the creation of an independent expert advisory body known as the Climate Change Authority, and the creation of an investment body, known as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • In 2013, the introduction into Parliament of legislation to repeal the Clean Energy Act 2011 and associated measures, including both the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the beginning of a consultation process over the Direct Action Plan, a scheme to replace the carbon price mechanism.