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Australia Ambition gap

What is Australiaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

1.5°C compatible pathways

Australia’s NDC indicates a 43% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030, including LULUCF, which translates into a 28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 or a 2030 emissions level of 380 MtCO₂e/yr, excluding LULUCF.47 The target is not in line with a 1.5°C compatible pathway, which would require domestic emissions to be reduced to 229-286 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030 or 46-56% below 2005 levels (excl. LULUCF). When including LULUCF, Australia’s emissions would need to decline at about 57-67% below 2005 levels by 2030.48

The 1.5°C pathway shown here is consistent with the Climate Action Tracker’s 2020 assessment of a bottom-up Paris Agreement compatible pathway for Australia, which requires an emissions reduction of about 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 (excl. LULUCF).

The Climate Change Bill , passed in September 2022, is indicative of the change in the Australian government’s overall stance on climate and energy matters.10 However, in order to achieve significant emissions reductions, let alone 1.5°C compatibility, the government would need to implement stable and effective climate policy. This should be kept in mind as the Labor government seeks to reform existing federal climate policy such as the Safeguard Mechanism.25

Australia’s overall fair share contribution to reducing global GHG emissions in line with the Paris Agreement would require a 60% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030, including LULUCF.11,51

Long term pathway

The Australian government committed to a reaching net zero emissions by 2050 in October 2021 and was enshrined in law under the Climate Change Bill, passed in September 2022.9,10

To be on a 1.5°C compatible pathway, Australia would need to roughly halve its GHG emissions, excluding LULUCF, by 2030, and achieve an 84-94% reduction below 2005 levels by 2050. The Climate Action Tracker’s 2020 assessment of a Paris Agreement compatible pathway for Australia showed emission reductions of about 90% below 2005 levels by 2050, excluding LULUCF.

To reach net zero GHG emissions in 2050 under the 1.5°C compatible pathways assessed here, Australia would need to deploy removals to balance residual GHG emissions, principally from agriculture.

The government’s current emissions reduction plans rely heavily on offsetting through carbon credits.34 Serious integrity issues with these credits could undermine the government’s ability to realise their net zero targets.11,35

Australia’s net emissions decreased by 18% in 2005-2020 almost entirely as a result of the LULUCF sector change from an emissions source to sink. The government projects that the sector will continue to act as a sink through to 2030, declining by around 37% in 2020-2030, reaching around -26 MtCO₂.12

1 Australian Government. Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution Communication 2022. 2022.

2 Australian Government. Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution Communication 2021. 2021.

3 Australian Government. Australian Energy Update 2022. Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. 2022.

4 Reputex. The Economic Impact of the ALP’s Powering Australia Plan. 2021.

5 IEA. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy 2021 Edition. 2021.

6 Australian Government. National construction code (NCC) updates mean energy efficiency ratings expansion for new residences. Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. 2022.

7 Australian Government. Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings. Department of Climate Change, the Environment, Energy and Water. 2019.

8 Australian Government. Safeguard Mechanism reform: consultation paper. Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. 2022.

9 Australian Government. Australia’s Long-term Emissions Reduction Plan. 2021.

10 Parliament of Australia. Climate Change Bill 2022. 2022.

11 Climate Action Tracker. Australia. August 2022 update. Climate Action Tracker. 2022.

12 Australian Government. Australia’s emissions projections 2021. 2021.

13 AEMO. 2022 Integrated System Plan For the National Electricity Market. 2022.

14 Hurst, D. Australia could send extra gas to Europe as Russia cuts supplies due to Ukraine tensions. The Guardian. 2022.

15 Woodside. AGM Address by Chairman Richard Goyder and CEO Meg O’Neill. 2022.

16 AEMO. Gas Statement of Opportunities. 2022.

17 Australian Government. Legacy of ongoing Morrison Government fossil fuel handouts. 2022.

18 Morton, A. & Touma, R. Labor urged to axe $1.9bn in ‘zombie’ fossil fuel subsidies promised by the Coalition. The Guardian. 2022.

19 King, M. New offshore greenhouse gas storage acreage to help lower emissions. The Hon Madeleine King MP Media Releases. 2022.

20 King, M. Speech at the Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference, Adelaide. The Hon Madeleine King MP Media Releases. 2022.

21 Australian Government. Emissions Reduction Fund White Paper. 2014.

22 COAG Energy Council. National Energy Productivity Plan 2015-2030. 2015.

23 Australian Government. Renewable Energy Target. Clean Energy Regulator. 2022.

24 Parkinson, G. Australia officially met renewable target in January, despite big project delays. Renew Economy. 2021.

25 Climate Analytics. Submission to the Australian Government’s review of the Safeguard Mechanism. 2022.

26 Parra, P. Y., Hare, B., Hutfilter, U. F. & Roming, N. Evaluating the significance of Australia’s global fossil fuel carbon footprint. 2019.

27 Department of Industry Science Energy and Resources. Australian Energy Update 2020, Australian Energy Statistics. 2020.

28 Australian Government. Trade and Investment at a Glance. 2020.

29 Readfearn, G. Australian coal burnt overseas creates nearly twice the nation’s domestic emissions. The Gaurdian. 2021.

30 Wood, T., Dundas, G. & Ha., J. Start with steel. 2020.

31 Marshall, L. Building a clean hydrogen industry for Australia. CSIRO. 2021.

32 Climate Action Tracker. Australia. CAT Scaling Up Climate Action series. Climate Action Tracker. 2020.

33 Climate Analytics. FACTSHEET 4: Australia’s Industry Inefficient and standing still. 2018.

34 Reputex. The Economic Impact of the ALP’s Powering Australia Plan. 2021.

35 Macintosh, A. et al. The ERF’s Human-induced Regeneration (HIR): What the Beare and Chambers Report Really Found and a Critique of its Method. 2022.

36 Randall, T. Clean Energy Has a Tipping Point, and 87 Countries Have Reached It. Bloomberg Green. 2022.

37 Australian Government. Australia reaches the 3 million solar milestone. Clean Energy Regulator. 2021.

38 Clean Energy Council. Clean Energy Australia Report. 2022.

39 Lewis, J. Chevron’s flagship Gorgon CCS project still failing to live up to expectations. Upstream. 2022.

40 Readfearn, G. Gas giant Chevron falls further behind on carbon capture targets for Gorgon gasfield. The Guardian. 2022.

41 Smit, R., Dia, H. & Surawski, N. The road to new fuel efficiency rules is filled with potholes. Here’s how Australia can avoid them. The Conversation. 2022.

42 The Centre for International Economics. What existing economic studies say about Australia’s cost of abatement. 2019.

43 Climate Change Authority. Light Vehicle Emissions Standards for Australia. 2014.

44 The Centre for International Economics. What existing economic studies say about Australia’s cost of abatement. 2019.

45 Australian Government. Budget October 2022-23: Budget Measures Budget Paper No . 2. (2022).

46 Australian Government. National Electric Vehicle Strategy: consultation paper. Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. 2022.

47 We have derived the excl. LULUCF target from 2005 emissions level in the government’s Paris Agreement inventory and 2030 LULUCF projections in the Government projections published in 2022 of -33 MtCO₂e. Both these sources use global warming potentials (GWP) from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). As the 1.5°C national pathway explorer uses GWPs from the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), we have converted the government’s emissions data to AR4 using an average conversion factor of 0.98 (AR4=0.98*AR5). For reference, the AR5 GWP weighted 2030 emissions based on for reference, the AR5 GWP numbers based on the most recent inventory the most recent inventory is 388 MtCO₂e/yr excluding LULUCF in 2030.

48 Based on Government LULUCF projections which use AR5 GWP (-16 MtCO₂e/yr in 2030). Here we have applied the government LULUCF projections growth rates to the latest LULUCF historical data in the Paris Agreement Inventory, and estimate a LULUCF sink of -26 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030 using AR4 GWP. Historic LULUCF emissions for 2005 have also been converted to AR4.

49 The 2022 projections including LULUCF for 2030 are for about a 32% reduction, 11% short of the Governments 43% target.

50 For a critique of the effectiveness of this mechanism, see Climate Action Tracker’s analysis of Australia’s current policies. For discussion of the associated Safeguard Mechanism, see Submission on Safeguard Mechanism reform.

51 This is consistent with the Climate Targets Panel in Australia “fair share” reductions for Australia in 2030 of 74% from 2005 emission levels including LULUCF based on earlier Climate Change Authority work. The overall fair share contribution includes domestic emissions reductions and substantial support for emission reductions in developing countries on top of its domestic reductions.


Australiaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
NDC (estimated)
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
NDC (estimated)
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 2005

Energy system transformation

In 2020, fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) were used for 93% of the country’s primary energy needs (29%, 37%, and 27% respectively).3 Fugitive emissions from the energy sector in Australia are significant, largely due to the extraction and processing of coal and gas for export markets, with Australia the world’s largest exporter of both.26 These two commodities make up around 25% of export value and roughly 6% of GDP, illustrating Australia’s need to diversify its economy away from fossil fuel exports to achieve decarbonisation.27-29

Renewable energy-based “green” hydrogen may provide an important economic and climate change mitigation opportunity for Australia, and has the potential to decarbonise the industrial sector, particularly the production of ammonia, steel, and petrochemicals.3033 The Australian government needs to focus on green, and not fossil fuel based, hydrogen production, which, even when produced using carbon capture and storage (CCS), produces significant emissions.11 It also remains an unproven and costly technology, making it inherently risky to pursue.

All illustrative pathways agree, as does this bottom-up study by the Climate Action Tracker, that unabated fossil fuels should be phased out quickly and steadily so that CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels and industry reach zero around 2050.


Australiaʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
20192030204020504 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
20192030204020504 000
Low energy demand
20192030204020504 000
Bottom-Up CAT Scaling-Up
20192030204020504 000
High energy demand - Low CDR reliance
20192030204020504 000
  • Renewables incl. biomass
  • Unabated fossil
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS

Australiaʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for Australia. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
229 to 286
77 to 158
32 to 85
Relative to reference year in %
−56 to −46%
−85 to −70%
−94 to −84%
Total CO₂
146 to 221
11 to 113
−14 to 39
2044 to 2065
Relative to reference year in %
−62 to −43%
−97 to −71%
−104 to −90%