All Australian state and territory governments are now committed to net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. These commitments cover all emissions produced within Australia’s borders. The majority of states and territories have also set interim emissions targets. Current state and territory interim targets combined translate to an estimated 37-42 per cent reduction on 2005 emissions Australia-wide by 2030. While this is short of what is needed, it is higher than Australia’s Paris commitment for 2030 of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels.

State and territory climate action: Leading policies and programs in Australia

As part of Decarbonisation Futures (Climateworks Australia 2020), Climateworks modelled pathways for Australia to reach net zero emissions that are aligned to the goals of the Paris Agreement. These goals include limiting global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The modelling shows that this decade needs to be one of transformational action if these goals are to be achieved. Emissions need to be reduced rapidly, and net zero emissions achieved well before 2050.

Climateworks has analysed the targets, policies and programs that have been announced by Australian states and territories since the start of 2020 – the decade of action. States and territories have allocated billions of dollars of funding to emissions reduction measures, and have also made significant and inventive regulatory and legislative changes. Some examples of targets and policies that directly target emissions reductions are included below.

  • In electricity, state and territory targets translate to a 55 per cent renewable energy target Australia-wide by 2030 and governments are taking substantial action to ensure their implementation. As of July 2021, renewable electricity projects in the pipeline equate to over 10,000 MW of new generation and 1,400 MW of new storage.
  • In transport, the two most populous states have targeted 50 per cent of new car sales being electric by 2030, which translates to an estimated 30 per cent of new car sales Australia-wide. Multiple jurisdictions are also addressing public transport emissions, powering rail with renewable electricity and transitioning bus fleets to electric vehicles.
  • In buildings, Australia is leading the world on solar uptake, with increased action in energy efficiency and electrification.
  • In industry, and agriculture and land – the harder-to-abate sectors – governments are beginning to address emissions and institute policies that will drive the changes needed this decade.

These actions have occurred across all key sectors of the economy. Taking action on climate change has
become much less of a partisan issue in Australia at the state and territory level – governments from across the political spectrum are starting to move on climate policy.

The most noteworthy initiatives that have been implemented by states and territories are presented in this report by sector – Electricity, Transport, Buildings, Industry, and Agriculture and Land. The report shows that different state and territory actions are stronger in different policy areas. Governments – in Australia and around the world – have an opportunity to learn from and build on the progress of their counterparts, and collaborate to address the emissions reductions and economic transformations needed to achieve net zero emissions.

The policies and programs detailed in this report demonstrate accelerated momentum in state and territory climate policy. They also show how much more can and needs to be achieved in Australia. The window for keeping global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius is narrowing, but the goal is still possible if ambitious benchmarks of progress are met this decade (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 2021). For example, in Climateworks’ scenarios aligned to the goals of the Paris Agreement, by 2030 in Australia:

  • Total annual emissions are 48-74 per cent lower than 2005 levels
  • Renewables generate 70-79 per cent of electricity
  • Electric vehicles represent 50-76 per cent
    of new car sales.

Currently, there is at least one state or territory in Australia that has set a target and introduced an implementation strategy aligned to each of these benchmarks. But there is significant work to do to achieve these, and other key transitions, across the Australian economy. This report focuses specifically on what state and territory governments have done and can do to drive emissions reductions. But states and territories cannot do it alone. Achieving the Paris Agreement will require all levels of government – along with businesses and individuals – to go ‘all in’ on climate action this decade (Climateworks Australia 2020).

Watch: the state and corporate climate action webinar event.