A short history of Australia's climate response

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1980s
Australian climate warnings begin
In November 1987 Monash University hosts the inaugural GREENHOUSE conference, with 260 delegates from around the world.
The conference is the first in Australia to sound the alarm on climate change following a growing body of evidence in the 70s and early 80s.
Early 1990s
Leadership changes stall action
Following the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 1990, Bob Hawke announces a target to cut Australia's greenhouse emissions 20% below 1988 levels, by 2005.
However, when he is replaced by Paul Keating in late 1991, amidst a recession, momentum stalls.
Keating is defeated at the 1996 election by John Howard, and the new government focuses on the potential economic impacts of climate action over the cost of inaction.
Image source: AAP
December 1997
Howard demands special treatment in Kyoto
The Howard government sets a target to increase Australia's emissions by 8% above 1990 levels, while the rest of the industrialised world cuts theirs.
It also demands Australia be given a special clause to allow the inclusion of carbon emissions from land clearing, which had already been declining sharply since 1990, giving Australia a leg up over other countries.
Despite winning this deal, John Howard announces his refusal to ratify the protocol two years later.
Image source: Helene C Stikkel, US Gov./Wikimedia Commons
2007
Rudd ratifies Kyoto, promises climate action
Labor wins the 2007 election, partly due to the strength of its climate policies, and Prime Minster Kevin Rudd ratifies the Kyoto Protocol as its first act in office.
The Rudd government also attempts to set a carbon price in the form of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009, but the bill fails to pass parliament after members of the Coalition and the Greens block it in the Senate.
Image source: AAP/UNICEF
November 2011
Gillard government passes carbon price
After replacing Kevin Rudd as Labor leader and prime minister in June 2010, then winning the August 2010 election, the Gillard minority government establishes a committee to investigate a model for introducing a price on carbon emissions.
The model, a market-based carbon price with an initial fixed price, is passed by parliament and comes into effect in July 2012.
Image source: Alan Porritt/AAP
July 2014
Abbott ditches the emissions trading scheme
Following a year of back-and-forth with the Senate to deliver on an election promise that helped him defeat Gillard, Prime Minister Tony Abbott ditches the Gillard government's carbon pricing policy.
He replaces it with a policy of "direct action" in the form of an emissions reduction fund and a mechanism to set industrial emissions baselines.
Image source: Daniel Munoz/AAP
September 2015
The Turnbull era begins
Malcolm Turnbull becomes prime minister in September, but faces stiff internal party opposition to climate action.
Australia signs the Paris Agreement in December to reduce emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030 – a target widely criticised as meagre. It sets no commitment for 2050.
Image source: Sam Mooy/AAP
2016
Turnbull rules out emissions intensity scheme
The Climate Change Authority recommends a market-based emissions intensity target, which would see generators exceeding such a target buying credits from those who were not, to help meet Australia’s 2030 Paris target.
The Turnbull government rejects this advice.
October 2017
Finkel proposal rejected in favour of National Energy Guarantee
Chief Scientist Alan Finkel releases a major report which recommends a Clean Energy Target.
The Turnbull government rejects the proposal, instead announcing the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) which promises to keep energy reliable while reducing emissions.
Image source: Mick Tsikas/AAP
August 2018
Scott Morrison becomes PM, dumps the NEG
Malcolm Turnbull is added to the toll of Australian leaders felled over climate policy.
A group of government MPs remains staunchly opposed to the NEG because it proposes enshrining Australia’s 26% emissions target in law.
A month after becoming PM, Morrison dumps the policy.
Image source: Lukas Coch/AAP
2019
International condemnation
At the election in May, Tony Abbott loses his seat to pro-climate action independent Zali Steggall, who proposes a UK style "carbon budget" legislation for Australia.
At the Pacific Islands Forum, Pacific Island leaders criticise Australia's failure to set a firm emissions target. Australia is accused of putting coal before its Pacific "family".
A month later, Scott Morrison snubs a United Nations climate summit in New York. Summit observers say our government is seen globally as a climate denialist.
Image source: Mick Tsikas/AAP
May 2020
Emissions reduction technology plan released
Energy Minister Angus Taylor releases the Technology Investment Roadmap, which examines more than 140 technologies for potential investment between now and 2050. They include electric vehicles, biofuels, batteries, hydrogen, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.
Image source: Lukas Coch/AAP
October 2021
No new targets at Glasgow (COP26)
The Morrison government took a commitment to net zero by 2050 to the COP26 summit in Glasgow, however it maintained its previous target of only 26% to 28% emissions reduction below 2005 levels, and refused to legislate to ensure either target would be met.
Scott Morrison claimed it would be "technology, not taxes" that would meet future targets, calling this plan "the Australian way".
Multiple MPs and senators in the Nationals refused to confirm their agreement to the net zero target after the 2022 election.
May 2022
Australia's 'climate election'
Despite polls showing a majority of voters in every Australian seat wanted action on climate change, and facing fights in multiple previously safe seats from independents and Greens candidates running on a climate platform, the Morrison government took no new climate policy to the election.
Anthony Albanese's Labor brought a more ambitious platform of 43% reduction on 2005 emissions levels by 2030, however this was also a smaller target than their 2019 platform.
While Labor won government, both parties saw their primary votes sink to historic lows, and 'teal' independents and Greens candidates took previously safe Liberal and Labor seats in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, signalling a desire for action from the electorate and the potential for real change in climate policy.
Image source: Mick Tsikas/AAP