Tracking Australia’s progress on the climate crisis and the consequences of global heating

After nearly a decade of stalling and delaying on climate action, Australia has a new government that promises new policies and has set new emissions reduction targets.

Here, Guardian Australia will track progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and document the consequences of the global heating that has already occurred.

The charts below tell the story in detail, covering historic and estimated future emissions, how Australia compares with other countries, how much greenhouse gas the country exports, and how much longer Australia has left to get to zero emissions and meet the landmark Paris agreement targets.

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Australia’s ‘fair share’ of future emissions

The carbon budget countdown clock shows how long is left until Australia has emitted its “fair share” of future greenhouse gas emissions, if it stays on its current trajectory. It is based on the emissions trend and does not take into account changes in government policy.

There are calculations for limiting global heating to 1.5C and 2C, the two goals included in the Paris agreement. Scientists warn there is a substantial difference in likely damage from climate change between 1.5C and 2C of heating.

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This chart presents the information in the countdown clock in another way. It tallies Australia’s estimated emissions since 1850 and shows what different 2030 targets mean for staying within different carbon budgets.

The government’s 43% target is likely to push Australia beyond its fair share of an emissions budget to avoid 1.5C by later this decade.

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This chart shows the trajectory of Australia’s emissions since 1990, and what meeting different targets would mean if reductions were made in a straight line between now and 2030 or 2050.

There is a drop in emissions since 2020 due to reduced activity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of that is expected to rebound.

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The picture changes significantly if you exclude emissions from what is known as LuluCF (land use, land use change and forestry). The chart excluding emissions from land use shows that nearly all of the drop in national emissions since 2005 is due to a reduction in agricultural land-clearing and forestry.

These changes were not due to national climate policies or attempts to cut emissions. They were due to state government decisions and a decline in the market for native forest logging. Both land-clearing and forestry continue on significant scales, but the greenhouse gas accounts reflect that they have reduced since 2005.

Emissions from the rest of the economy – mainly fossil fuel industries – are 20.2% higher than in 1990 and down only 1.4% since 2005.

The next chart shows an estimate of how much other countries emit when they burn Australian fossil fuels. China and Japan are Australia’s biggest markets for coal and gas exports.

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Emissions from burning Australia’s black coal are mostly not reflected in national emissions accounts. The bulk of the coal is sold and combusted overseas, as the following chart shows:

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How Australia compares to the world

Australia’s minimum emissions reduction target for 2030 has increased since the change of government, and how it compares with other developed countries. It remains behind most other similar countries.

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This chart shows how emissions have changed year-by-year from some developed countries since 2000. Emissions from land use changes – LuluCF – are not included. Red denotes increases and blue shows decreases. Australia’s emissions mostly increased, or stayed about the same, until Covid-19 hit.

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This chart shows how much different countries emit per capita. The deeper the purple, the higher the pollution.

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The consequences of global heating

The graph below shows the change in average Australian temperatures since early last century. The Bureau of Meteorology says the temperature across the country prior to the ongoing La Niña events was 1.4C hotter than pre-industrial times.

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Finally, here is a look at some recent extreme events that were more likely to occur, or more likely to be severe, due to rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations:

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This article is being regularly updated to reflect new data releases. Any significant corrections made to this or previous versions of the article will be footnoted in line with the Guardian’s editorial policy.

Notes and methods:

  • Emissions values are based on tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases (AR5 values).

  • Carbon clock uses the “fair share” carbon budget as a baseline, originally calculated as 10,400,000,000 tonnes of CO2-e between 2013 and 2050.

  • Guardian Australia uses the quarterly National Greenhouse Gas Inventories to calculate emissions since 2021, creating a daily average from the previous year to calculate how much longer before the fair share threshold is breached.

  • Carbon clock uses one second ticks based on the greenhouse gas emissions from the previous year.

  • Per capita greenhouse gas emissions by country are based on the latest release of the Global Carbon Budget from the Global Carbon Project.

  • Estimated combustion greenhouse gas emissions from Australian fossil fuels are calculated using production and export volumes from the Australian Resources and Energy Quarterly.

  • Domestic consumption of black coal is estimated by subtracting annual exports from annual production.

  • Volumes of fossil fuel exports are converted into energy units using factors from the Australian Energy Statistics.

  • Emissions factors for energy from fossil fuels are calculated using figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

  • Thanks to Tim Baxter for providing feedback on several graphics. Any errors remain the fault of the authors.