Australia is a small greenhouse gas polluter in global terms, but one of the worst per capita because it relies heavily for its electricity on its abundant reserves of coal, which also make it the world’s largest exporter of the polluting fuel. As the driest continent after Antarctica, it is also considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. In 2015, 86% of electricity is generated from fossil fuels types (73% from coal and 13%  from natural gas.) Renewable energy provided the remainder. Rooftop solar power passed 5 gigawatts of capacity in early 2016. link  In 2015, Australia’s wind farms produced 33.7% of the country’s clean energy and supplied 4.9% of Australia’s overall electricity during the year. link  Currently the biggest issue in Australia is survival of the Great Barrier Reef and the threat from coal plant development in Queensland (see sections below).


  • Climate change major threat to Australia
  • Drought plagues Australia – desalination
  • Renewables
  • Politics and climate action
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Carbon Tax
  • Solar Power
  • Wind Power
  • What coal means to Australia / Carbon Capture
  • Other news (including nuclear)

Country profile from Renewable Energy World
Clean Energy Council – link

Climate change major threat to Australia

Climate change and the end of Australia. Want to know what global warming has in store for us? Just go to Australia, where rivers are drying up, reefs are dying, and fires and floods are ravaging the continent. This October 2011 Rolling Stone article presents a picture of Australia suffering the first devastating consequences of climate change as a precursor of what the rest of the planet faces in the near future. With abundant access to potential solar power, yet being the world’s greatest source of coal and depending on coal for 80% of its energy, Australia is the lesson we should be paying attention to.  Article here February 2009: Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in – link

May 2018: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar. New emissions data reveals Australia’s climate pollution increased by 1.5% in the year to December 2017, putting Paris targets in doubt, as greenhouse emissions increasing for the third consecutive year. Australia’s emissions levels are now higher than they were in 2012 and have climbed 3.6% since the carbon price was repealed in 2014. link  Emissions are now the highest on record.  link  February 2016: Australian emissions rising towards historical highs and will not peak before 2030. Australia’s national greenhouse gas emissions are set to keep rising well beyond 2020 on current trends, with the projected growth rate one of the worst in the developed world, a new analysis has found. Australia’s emissions are on track for a further 6% increase to 2020. link

December 2017: Australia’s emission targets failing. This week the government released projections for Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to 2030. They showed that based on existing policies, far from any cuts being made, the country’s rising greenhouse gas pollution would continue to increase to 2030 and beyond. Australia has committed to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. But the government has refused to consider emissions cuts in the national electricity market greater than 26%. link

December 2016: Australia is blowing its carbon budget. Australia has emitted about twice what is allowed by the Climate Change Authority’s carbon budget since 2013. In the three years and nine months to September 2016, the country emitted 19.8% of its share of what the world can emit between 2013 and 2050 if it intends to maintain a good chance of keeping warming to below 2C. link

January 2015: Climate change will hit Australia harder than rest of world – link
March 2016: Heatwaves – the silent killer. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and deeply is the best way to protect Australians from worsening extreme heat events – pdf report by Climate Council – link  August 2013: Heat-related deaths set to quadruple by 2050 – link

Drought plagues Australia – desalination

Australia is a continent defined by extremes, and recent decades have seen some extraordinary climate events. But droughts, floods, heatwaves, and fires have battered Australia for millennia. A recent paper reconstructed 800 years of seasonal rainfall patterns across the Australian continent. New records show that parts of Northern Australia are wetter than ever before, and that major droughts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries in southern Australia are likely without precedent over the past 400 years. link  Central-western New South Wales – July 2018 – faces its worst drought in 100 years  as some families on the land are facing ruin as the rain stays away. link Since the 1860s there have been nine major Australian droughts, and the last nine-year long Big Dry which ended in 2010 caused more than 10,000 Australian farming families to leave their land. link The south-west of Australia can expect to see average annual rainfall drop by 40% compared to the mid-20th century with greenhouse gas emissions seen as the cause; there has been a 20% decline in winter rains since the 1960s. link

August 2018:  Drought causes despair for Australian farmers. The worst drought in living memory is sweeping through Australia’s east, the country’s main food bowl, decimating wheat and barley crops and leaving grazing land parched. The east coast has received some recent sporadic rain, though it has not been enough to save crops. A sustained break of the “big dry” is required to enable grazing to resume. New South Wales is the country’s most-populous state and produces a quarter of Australia’s agriculture by value. The state government has officially declared a drought. link


August 2016: Desalination – the Australian experience. Australia faced the worst drought in living memory (which came to be known as the Millennium Drought) between 1997 and 2010. While rain did eventually fall in the east coast, Western Australia continues with long-term reduction in rainfall over the past 40 years as a result of climate change. The Perth and was completed in 2006, and supplies approximately half of the drinking water for city’s 2 million people. The Perth plant has its energy consumption entirely offset by purchase of renewable energy. link

April 2018: Advantages and disadvantages to desalination. It is very costly to build and operate desalination plants. Depending on their location, building a plant can cost from $300 million to $2.9 billion. Once operational, plants require huge amounts of energy. Energy costs account for one-third to one-half of the total cost of producing desalinated water. Because energy is such a large portion of the total cost, the cost is also greatly affected by changes in the price of energy. (Some Caribbean islands get almost all of their drinking water through desalination plants, and Saudi Arabia gets 70 percent of its fresh water via the process.) link


Renewable energy provided 14.6% of Australia’s electricity in 2015, enough to provide power for the equivalent of approximately 6.7 million average homes. This was up on the 13.5% the year before. link
A May 2013 analysis of government data finds Australia on track to not only hit 22% renewables by 2020, but reach an unprecedented 51% of all electricity by 2050, although one report suggest 100% is attainable by 2050.  link   

May 2018: Shifting to renewables would save Australians $20bn a year. A new report says that a total shift to renewable energy would pay for itself through cost savings within two decades, and ultimately save Australians $20bn a year in combined fuel and power costs. The report outlines a path to powering homes and businesses from renewable sources by 2030. By 2035, 40% of transport could be emissions free. link

October 2017: State-by-state comparison on renewable energy targets. Australia is blessed, and cursed, with a federal system of government. It allows greater diversity, and also causes problems when it comes to the coordination of service delivery. In the last few years energy and climate change policy have also become contentious. The Federal Government’s recently announced National Electricity Guarantee and its retreat from Renewable Energy Target (RET), means that the state targets are now much more important. The lack of a national policy makes it harder for the renewable energy industry, and almost guarantees that Australia will not meet the Paris climate change mitigation targets that it has signed up for. link

June 2018: Tasmania – “battery of the nation” plan. Pumped hydro in Tasmania promises 4,800MW renewable energy as 14 pumped hydro sites have been earmarked across the state that could double the state’s renewable energy capacity. Under the plan, renewable energy would be exported to the mainland if a planned second interconnector goes ahead. link  Tasmania aims for 100% renewables by 2020 –  link

October 2017: Queensland partnership of Tesla and Vestas in 60MW joint venture. Tesla will supply batteries and Vestas Wind Systems will supply turbines for the first phase of a project in north-central Queensland. 43MW of wind will be combined with 15MW of solar in the first phase which could lead to a larger 1.2-gigawatt energy park in the region. link

October 2017: South Australia goes all out for renewables. Recently, South Australia’s state government has announced not one but two record-breaking renewable energy projects: the world’s largest solar thermal power plant and the world’s largest lithium ion battery installation. link

August 2017: Victoria looks to lock in renewable energy target. Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, has proposed passing laws to lock in a renewable power target of 40% by 2025, (and 25% by 2020). The federal government, controlled by the Liberal Party, has no renewable energy target beyond 2020. link

March 2017: ACT (Australian Capital Territory) aims for 100% by 2020 – link

August 2017: Renewable energy generates enough power to run 70% of Australian homes. Australia’s renewable energy sector cranked out enough electricity to run 70% of homes last financial year. The first Australian Renewable Energy Index finds the sector will generate enough power to run 90% homes once wind and solar projects under construction in 2016-17 are completed. Renewables, which made up just 7% of national electricity output a decade ago, accounted for 17.2% last financial year. The biggest single source of renewable power remained hydro-electricity (40%), followed by wind (31%) and rooftop solar (18%).  Less than 2% came from large solar farms. link

Politics and climate change

Until Kevin Rudd became prime minister of Australia in November 2007, Australia was the only significant nation not to have signed the Kyoto Protocol along with the USA. Ratification came into effect in March 2008. Australia’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are among the highest in the world at about 17.22 tonnes. [Liberal party leader, Tony Abbott, replaced Rudd as PM in the September 2013 election and seeks to cancel the carbon tax. Climate change is not a priority for the incoming government. Why Abbott wants to abolish carbon tax –read] September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull challenged Abbott for the leadership and was sworn in as prime minister.

August 24 2018: Australia has its 5th PM in just over five years. New PM Scott Morrison nominated Australia’s long-running drought – 100% of the state of New South Wales is currently drought-affected – as a key issue. link  Morrison has conservative views on climate action rejecting opposition demands on emission reductions and renewable energy. link

April 2018: Australian energy leaders look to end power and climate policy war. Australia has moved a step closer to ending a decade of political bickering over climate and energy policy, with broad support emerging for a national power plan that would also include emissions cuts. Carbon policy disputes have claimed the heads of two prime ministers and then-opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull over the past 10 years. Victoria and Queensland had been seen as the main stumbling blocks, as they want to cut carbon emissions more sharply than the government, with more ambitious targets for renewable energy and plans to end coal-fired generation. link

September 2016: Officials admit no modelling on how Australia meets Paris pledge –.link

Australia experienced its hottest year on record in 2013. Temperatures were 1.2C above the long term average, the warmest since records began in 1910. link
Great Barrier Reef

April 2017: People come to Great Barrier Reef’s rescue. First in the hundreds, then in the tens of thousands, a people’s movement grew to defend the reef. Everyday Aussies turned activists and campaigners.  Scientists and lawyers came forward with vital expertise. Only finally did the politicians follow the will of the people. Through the power and determination of the Australian people, the greatest marine park in human history was established and the Great Barrier Reef lived to fight another day. Determined Australian efforts to save the reef must be directed to closing down the coal mining industry. link   (How did the reef reach terminal stage? – Short video – link)

June 2016: Great Barrier Reef – catastrophe laid bare – link  August 2018: Great Barrier Reef: 30% of coral died in ‘catastrophic’ 2016 heatwavelink

See also page on Coral Reefs – link

Carbon Tax

July 2014: Australia’s Senate votes to repeal carbon tax – link
July 2015: Carbon tax repeal leads to increase in CO2 emissions. Australia’s Climate Council cites new data showing CO2 emissions went up 6.4m tonnes in the last financial year since the tax was axed.The increase of 4.3% has undone part of an 11% fall in emissions during the two years the tax was in place. link

December 2014: Carbon tax results in biggest emissions drop. Greens and conservation group say significant drop in annual emissions shows the carbon price, which was scrapped by the Abbott government, was effective, Emissions reduction accelerated during the two-year span of carbon pricing, with emissions edging down by 0.8% in the first 12 months of the system. link

Pre-2013 election:
October 2011: Carbon tax bill passes. Australia’s lower house of parliament has narrowly passed (74 votes for and 72 against) a bill for a controversial carbon tax. It is expected to pass the Senate with the help of the Greens next month. The legislation would force about 500 of the biggest polluters to pay for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit. link

(60% of Australians say they oppose the tax; after the next election in 2013, a defeat for the government would possibly lead to a repeal of the tax.)
November 2011: Carbon tax would raise $25 billion – link  

Solar Power

As of March 2018, Australia had over 7,803MW of installed solar power of which 1,651MW were installed in the preceding 12 months. [That figure could treble in 2018} Solar PV accounted for 2.4% of Australia’s electrical energy production in 2014/15. link   

January 2018: World’s largest ever thermal solar plant to be built in South Australia. U.S. company, SolarReserve, claims the new plant will be able to power around 35% of all of the households in South Australia. A report released by the Conservation Council of South Australia in 2015 concluded South Australia could be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030. The report found around 40% of South Australian power came from wind and solar, and over a quarter of houses were fitted with rooftop solar panels.  South Australia has the highest penetration of renewables in the world. link

May 2017: Large-scale solar industry takes off as 12 new plants secure finance. Australia’s large-scale solar industry now appears to be on solid ground. Construction has already begun at nine of the 12 Arena-funded plants and the others three are a done deal, with the White Rock solar farm in New South Wales the final project to reach financial close last week. At least six more plants being developed in Australia without grant funding, suggesting the grant program had succeeded in establishing a self-sustaining industry. link

March 2017: South Australia to get $1bn solar farm and world’s biggest battery. A huge $1bn solar farm and battery project will be built and ready to operate in South Australia’s Riverland region by the end of 2017. The farm will enable 330MW of power generation and at least 100MW of storage. link

April 2013: One million homes now with solar – link

Wind Power

In 2015, Australia’s wind farms produced 33.7% of the country’s clean energy and supplied 4.9% of Australia’s overall electricity during the year. Five wind farms became operational in 2015, adding 196 turbines and 380MW of generating capacity. These additional projects took the Australian wind industry to a total of 76 wind farms with a combined capacity of 4187MW, made up of 2062 turbines. link

February 2013: Wind energy now cheaper than coal. Wind is now cheaper than fossil fuels in producing electricity in Australia according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Relying on fossil fuels to produce electricity is getting more expensive because of the government’s price on carbon emissions imposed last year, higher financing costs and rising natural gas prices, BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) said. The cost of wind generation has fallen by 10% since 2011 on lower equipment expenses, while the cost of solar power has dropped by 29%. link

August 2011: New 600MW farm announced. South Australia already has 534 turbines installed producing 1,150MW of wind-generating capacity, which is more than 21% of the state’s total electricity generation.” A 600MW farm will catapult the state towards a target of 33% of renewable-energy generation by 2020 according to South Australia Premier Mike Rann. The project should be complete by the end of 2015. link

August 2010: Southern hemisphere’s largest wind farm. The largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere will be built in Australia at Macarthur near Hamilton, 260km west of Melbourne, Victoria. The 420 MW Macarthur Wind Farm will abate more than 1.7 million tons of greenhouse gases every year. link

What coal means to Australia

August 2017: Australia’s fleet of coal plants could be gone by 2040. About a fifth of the country’s coal capacity has disappeared since 2012; the Muja AB plant refurbished in Western Australia has been a costly disaster and the 13th station to shut in that period; no new ones have opened this decade. For all the talk of new coal-fired power plants, none are in development. link

Controversial Adani plant in Queensland

December 2017: End in sight – Adani close to defeat. Environmentalists victory as Chinese banks turn down finance; the huge coal mine in Queensland seems doomed. link

April 2017: Coal talks in India. Australia wants coal to play “a very big role” in powering India’s future despite a glut in the local market and clear signals from Delhi that it aims to eliminate imports of the fossil fuel as soon as possible. India’s Adani Group is the mining company that will soon decide whether to begin building the world’s largest coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee basin. As well as concerns over its environmental impact, the $16bn project has been dogged by questions over its economic viability. link
(November 2017 update – Labor victory a ‘death knell for Adani’ coal mine – link)  

Proposed Carmichael coal mine and Adani connection.   

March 2017: Fierce debate over monster coal mine. The so-called Carmichael mine, delayed for six years by a stream of legal challenges and environmental impact assessments, would be one of the biggest mines on the planet. If the $12.5bn project goes ahead in Queensland’s Galilee Basin – and latest indications are that it will – the coal produced there will emit more CO2 into the atmosphere every year than entire countries such as Kuwait and Chile, claim its opponents. lin

May 2016: Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, accounting for 35% of all coal exported, with the majority of the tonnages travelling to nearby neighbours in Asia, primarily Japan and China. link

January 2017: Australia’s coal plans twice as costly as renewables. Researcher says new coal plants aimed at reducing emissions would cost $62bn, while the cost using renewables would be $24-$34bn. A plan for new coal power plants, which government ministers say could reduce emissions from coal-generated electricity by 27%, would cost more than $60bn. Achieving the same reduction using only renewable energy would cost just half as much -between $24bn and $34bn – the report found. link (Pictured: Hazelwood power station in Victoria – photograph: Paul Crock – Getty Images)

April 2016: Air pollution increases 69% as coal named top polluter. Air quality across Australia has deteriorated to alarming levels with the coal industry the nation’s worst polluter. Nationally, total PM10 emissions have increased 69% in one year, and 194% in five years. link

March 2015: Australia urged to shut coal-fired power plants urgently as analysis reveals huge emissions. Unlike the US, China and parts of Europe, Australia has few regulations in place to limit emissions. link

Carbon Capture.

December 2012: The coal industry says it has made a giant step forward with the opening of Australia’s first ‘clean coal’ carbon capture plant in Biloela, central Queensland, a 30MW plant. While capturing 85% of CO2 gases, the operators still seek somewhere to store the gas. link

April 2013: Australia’s abundant coal could be worthless. If the world’s governments fulfil their agreement to act on climate change, Australia’s huge coal industry is a speculative bubble ripe for financial implosion. The warning that much of the nation’s coal reserves will become worthless as the world hits carbon emission limits comes after banking giant Citi also warned Australian investors that fossil fuel companies could do little to avoid the future loss of value. link

Other news

March 2017: Big Australian banks invest more in fossil fuels. Australia’s big four banks invested three times as much in global fossil fuels as they did in clean energy in 2016, despite pledging to help Australia transition to a low carbon economy. The banks provided a combined $10bn to projects around the world that expanded non-renewable energy, despite publicly supporting a 2C global warming limit laid out in the Paris climate agreement. link

August 2016: Warning of extreme events for Australia. A new report says the upper end of current climate extremes would be “the new normal” at 1.5 degrees warming – which could be just 10 to 20 years away under the current trajectory. At 2 degrees, the picture is much less clear – the climate system would move into uncharted territory. Several countries – including Australia – have been assessed as not having policies that can limit warming to about 3 degrees. link

Nuclear Power
Although Australia has no nuclear power stations, it has almost 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves, of which it supplies only 19% of the world market.February 2016: Australia’s outback could store world’s nuclear waste. A royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle has found storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel from other countries is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits for South Australia. South Australia was suitable because of its low levels of seismic activity, arid environment in many parts of the state, stable political structure and frameworks for securing long-term agreement with landowners and the community. Federal minister for resources and energy Josh Frydenberg said the proposed national nuclear waste facility would only store low and intermediate level waste. “It cannot and will not be built to store radioactive waste generated overseas or high level waste.” linkNovember 2015: Nuclear priced out of Australia’s future. Australia’s official economic forecaster has finally admitted that the cost of nuclear energy is more than double other clean energy alternatives, suggesting it would likely play no role in a decarbonised grid based around lowest costs. link

A growing population is another source of future problems for Australia. The Optimum Population Trust, an environmental organization in England whose concern is with the impact of population growth on the environment, determined that at the current standard of living (as determined by the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2002), the optimum population for Australia is 10 million and at a lower standard of living it is 21 million. (February 2016: Australia’s population reaches 25 million – link)  Government estimates that the population will increase by 53% by 2050 to 33 million.
Australia’s population – what is sustainable?  link  August 2018: Australia’s population to hit 25 million for first timelink

April 2016: Sea-level rise. Website reveals which homes will be swamped by rising sea levels. Coastal Risk Australia combines Google Maps with detailed tide and elevation data, as well as future sea level rise projections – link