International cooperation on climate change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The 1992 UNFCCC is the primary framework for international climate change cooperation. Its overarching objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human induced interference with the climate system. The Convention is a framework document augmented and updated by subsequent agreements, including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 and was ratified by enough countries for it to enter into force less than a year later – a record in international law. This historic agreement set in place a durable and dynamic framework requiring all Parties to take climate action.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries have agreed: 

  • A global goal to limit average temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C
  • All countries will make nationally determined contributions to reduce emissions, and review their efforts every five years, to build ambition over time 
  • Robust transparency and accountability rules will provide confidence in countries’ actions and track progress towards targets
  • The importance of adaptation and resilience to climate impacts
  • Developing countries will receive financial, technological and capacity building support. 

Australia ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016. Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 (known as Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement, or NDC). This is an ambitious target, representing a halving of emissions per person and a two-thirds reduction per unit of GDP. The Government will also develop a long-term emissions reduction strategy by 2020 that will explore emissions reduction opportunities and implications across all major sectors of the economy. Consistent with the timelines of the Paris Agreement, we will undertake five-yearly ‘review and refine’ cycles to ensure our policies are on track to meet our 2030 target.

Since the 2015 UNFCCC Conference, Parties have been negotiating the implementation rules to operationalise the Paris Agreement. This will set out detailed guidance on issues such as the information to be provided in future NDCs, transparency arrangements, use of international markets, and climate finance. This implementation guidance is due to be finalised at the UNFCCC Conference in Poland at the end of 2018.

Australia’s priorities for these negotiations are to:

  • Ensure Parties provide credible and robust information on their climate actions under the Paris Agreement Transparency Framework
  • Set clear guidance for the information that Parties should put forward in future commitments, and accounting rules with strong environmental integrity
  • Ensure international markets are credible and avoid double counting of outcomes
  • Build practical and useful guidance on the communication of adaptation information
  • Work together with Parties to support stronger collective action, including through building capacity and the provision and leveraging of climate finance.

The Kyoto Protocol

Australia ratified the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol in 2007. The Kyoto Protocol binds developed country Parties to targets to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions – known as Quantified Emissions Limitation or Reduction Obligations (QELROs).

Under its first commitment period, from 2008 to 2012, Australia adopted a QELRO limiting Australia’s emissions growth over the first commitment period to 108 per cent of 1990 levels. Australia’s QELRO under the second commitment period, from 2013 to 2020, is 99.5 per cent of 1990 levels.

Australia met and exceeded our first commitment period target under the Kyoto Protocol and is on track to meet and beat our second. Emissions per capita, and the emissions intensity of the Australian economy, are at their lowest levels in 28 years.

Cancun Agreements

The Cancun Agreements were adopted in 2010 and run in parallel with the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. Countries put forward nationally determined 2020 emissions reduction targets, or pledges, in the form of nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Australia’s Cancun pledge is to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, which is consistent with Australia’s second Kyoto Protocol commitment.

Montreal Protocol

The 1987 Montreal Protocol addresses the depletion of the ozone layer by harmful substances such as hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions – powerful synthetic greenhouse gases widely used in refrigerators, air conditioners, fire extinguishers and insulating foam. Australia was among the early countries to sign up to the Montreal Protocol and has often gone well beyond its requirements. Australia played a leading role in negotiating Parties’ agreement in 2016 to reduce HFC emissions by 85 per cent.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO)

International civil aviation and maritime transport represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are not directly addressed under the UNFCCC. International aviation accounts for around 1.3 per cent of global emissions and international shipping around 2.2 per cent. Australia works with other countries to address these emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO).

In 2013, ICAO agreed to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 through a basket of measures, including a market-based measure. Australia has supported ICAO to adopt a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) requiring airlines to purchase offsets if industry emissions increase above 2020 levels. Australia will participate in the CORSIA from its commencement in 2021.

In 2018, the IMO adopted an initial strategy on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships. Parties agreed that emissions should peak as soon as possible and to reduce total annual emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2008, while at the same time, pursuing efforts towards phasing them out entirely. Parties have identified candidate short-, mid- and long-term emissions reduction measures with possible timelines. These would build on the mandatory energy efficiency measures which have been in place since 2011.

Mission Innovation

Australia joined Mission Innovation, a group of countries committed to doubling governmental investment in clean energy innovation over five years, at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Mission Innovation members are collaborating around a set of innovation challenges to accelerate technology breakthroughs in priority areas: smart grids; off-grid access to electricity; carbon capture and storage; sustainable biofuels; converting sunlight; clean energy materials; affordable heating and cooling of buildings; and hydrogen.

International Solar Alliance (ISA)

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was launched at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, aiming to promote the roll out of solar technology. Australia is a founding member of the ISA framework agreement and contributing to the Clean Energy Solutions Centre – an online platform where policy makers in ISA member countries will have free access to tailored expert advice, webinars and training, and a library of tools and resources for policy development. We are also establishing a Solar Centre of Excellence, which will be a portal to our extensive world-class research, innovation and training capabilities in the solar sector and facilitate networking and knowledge-sharing with similar centres across the ISA. 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Australia’s engagement in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supports the development of high quality Assessment Reports and associated Special Reports, which will be a key input into the Paris Agreement’s Global Stocktake. Our support also provides opportunities for Australia to showcase our world leading research and modelling expertise.

Action on Rainforests

Australia has taken a leading role in building support for action to slow, halt and reverse the loss of rainforests. At the first Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Sydney in 2014, Australia led the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership. The Partnership promotes action and provides a platform to progress activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the Asia-Pacific Region. As part of the Partnership, biennial summits are held that bring together leaders in government, the private sector, research and civil society. Following the inaugural Summit in Sydney, a second summit was held in Brunei Darussalam in August 2016 and a third in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in April 2018. The 2018 Summit in Indonesia brought together more than 1,200 participants from over 40 countries to examine the theme ‘Protecting Forests and People – Supporting Economic Growth.’

Action on Marine Ecosystems

Australia launched the International Partnership for Blue Carbon at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. The Partnership raises awareness about the important role of coastal blue carbon ecosystems in climate action and strengthens co-operation between governments, research bodies and intergovernmental organisations to protect these water-based ecosystems. To further this work, Australia announced a $6 million initiative to protect and manage coastal blue carbon ecosystems in the Pacific at the UN Climate Conference in 2017 – the Pacific Regional Blue Carbon Initiative. This initiative will strengthen blue carbon expertise and data in the Pacific, support its integration into national greenhouse gas accounting and climate policy, and encourage public and private sector investment.

Australia supports the work of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) to make the world’s coral reefs more resilient, complemented by Australia’s world leading Reef 2050 Plan for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia is a founding member of ICRI and will co-chair (with Monaco and Indonesia) until July 2020. Australia has supported the establishment of a $5 million Coral Reef Innovation Facility to help incubate and accelerate solutions to coral reef management challenges common to developing countries. Australia has also committed $2 million from the aid program to ICRI, to further assist in areas relating to data management and capacity building.

Australia has provided $13 million from 2009-2018 to support the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI). The CTI supports the sustainable development of marine and coastal resources of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands by addressing issues such as food security, climate change and marine biodiversity.

Climate and Clean Air Coalition

Australia is a partner in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which brings together more than 100 partners to reduce and avoid emissions of fast acting pollutants, such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon.

Bilateral initiatives

Australia holds regular climate change discussions with other countries at ministerial and senior officials level, to share information, develop best practice and build joint efforts. Some examples of practical cooperation include:

The Australia-Germany Energy Transition Hub is a bilateral innovation partnership delivering research collaboration to help the technical, economic and social transitions to new energy systems and a low emissions economy. The Hub aims to inform public debate and facilitate dialogue across industry, research, government and civil society.

The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain Pilot Project is a world-first project to produce hydrogen in Victoria from brown coal and export it to Japan. Hydrogen is a fuel of the future and, when coupled with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which would be integrated for the commercial project phase, has the potential to provide a secure and clean source of energy as countries tackle the challenge of meeting national and international emissions reduction targets.

Australia has committed $3.87 million to support a unique climate change project to export Australian indigenous fire management practices. This project will be piloted in Botswana and has the potential to expand into other countries. This project is expected to bring multifaceted climate, environment and development benefits, and promotes the integration of knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples in responding to climate change.


Last Updated: 26 July 2018