Ambition: Australia's COP26 NDC

Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director, The Australia Institute

Despite the recent announcement of a net zero by 2050 target, it is increasingly clear that the Australian Government is not on track to meet such a target. As such, it is lagging behind most of the world when it comes to the ambitious climate action needed in this decisive decade.
Government policy shows no intention to reduce emissions, with fossil fuel project approvals even working to do the opposite. Yet, the Government continues to claim they are doing their part, using accounting tricks to claim that we are ‘meeting and beating’ our targets, and supporting ‘clean technologies’ that extend the life of the fossil fuel industry.

Net zero ‘plan’:

Australia’s net zero ‘plan’ is a fraud; there is no increased mid-term ambition, it includes misleading projections rather than an updated 2030 target and comes while the government continues to expand and prop up fossil fuel industries in Australia.

  • Federal Government provided at least AU$9.1 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry in just the last financial year
  • Three new coal projects in just the last month; 20 new coal mines proposed for development in NSW alone
  • So called ‘gas-fired recovery’ would open up Beetaloo basin, resulting in a possible 100Mt of additional GHG emissions
  • Commissioned seven new LNG plants in past few years, cancelling out growth of wind and solar.

Meeting by cheating

According to the Government, GHG emissions are currently at 20.8% below 2005 levels, and as such, Australia is overachieving on its 26-28% reductions by 2030 target. This claim is misleading and relies on accounting tricks and historical negotiations:

  • These figures are based off a much higher emissions baseline than other nations
  • They include accounting of Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). These changes have occurred in the absence of good climate policy and are instead largely a result of incidental reductions in land clearing, as well as other incidental impacts like drought and the lockdown response to COVID-19.
  • When land use is removed from pre-pandemic emissions reduction accounting, it becomes evident that Australia’s emissions actually increased on 2005 levels.
  • Despite claiming to be a world leader, when their emissions reductions and energy transition performance is compared to other comparable OECD economies, Australia ranks consistently at the bottom.

Promoting ‘clean’ ‘low-emissions’ technologies:

Funding of technologies such as ‘clean’ hydrogen and CCS masquerades as climate policy while in reality locking in fossil fuel infrastructure for decades to come.

  • CCS: Government has spent $4billion in recent decades with little to show for it. They admitted they do not expect emissions reductions from CCS until after 2040. Despite this, they have worked closely with Santos, one of the country’s largest fossil fuel producers, to develop a method that would allow companies to receive carbon credits for CCS. Santos’ Moomba project is now the first approved under this method.
  • The Government’s definition of ‘clean’ hydrogen includes hydrogen from gas, with CCS – this is not clean, and has been shown to be more emissions intensive than just burning the fossil fuels directly in the first place.
  • Both of these technologies are receiving substantial funding through the Technology Investment Roadmap, the only policy Australia brought to Cop26 that it is now largely promoting at its Pavilion.


  • Need 50% by 2030 reduction target
  • Need policies that align with actual, urgent emissions reductions rather than doing the opposite.


Australia Institute (2021) Government not on track for net zero
Australia Institute (2021) What is Australia bringing to COP26?
Australia Institute (2021) Australian fossil fuel subsidies hit $10.3 billion in 2020-21
Australia Institute (2021) Meeting by Cheating, Forthcoming