Australia’s first climate law since 2011 seals green comeback

Australia has long been seen as a laggard on the international stage when it came to climate action. PHOTOS: REUTERS

SYDNEY - Australia passed its first major climate legislation in more than a decade with a pledge to accelerate emissions curbs, sealing the key polluter's return as a force in global action on planetary warming.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's Climate Change Bill, which legislates a 43 per cent cut to carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, finally passed the Australian Senate on Thursday, though only after his government accepted it'll likely need to continue to show much more ambition.

Enshrining the target into law brings Australia in line with nations including Canada, South Korea and Japan, but it lags behind key allies including the US, and the UK.

Under the legislation, which cleared the Senate by 37 votes to 30, Australia will have mandated climate targets for the first time in its history and Energy and Climate Minister Chris Bowen will need to provide an annual statement to parliament on the government’s progress on emissions.

Still, much of the detail on exactly how Australia will reduce carbon pollution will come through future legislation.

That’s a contrast with nations like the US, which set out clear details – and specific funding – on how it plans to achieve climate targets in President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed last month. 

Pro-climate action minor parties, independent lawmakers and activists including billionaire technology tycoon Mike Cannon-Brookes have all pressed Mr Albanese's Labor government to go further on plans to curb emissions and questioned his administration’s continued support for fossil fuels, including a decision to oppose an amendment calling for a ban on new coal and gas developments.

“The law should serve as a springboard for more action, it needs to be backed up by credible climate action across every sector of the economy,” Amanda McKenzie, chief executive officer of the Climate Council, an advocacy group, said in a statement.

“The 2020s are the make or break decade for keeping global warming to survivable limits.”

Acceptance of the Bill is a victory for Mr Albanese who won the election in May with a promise to step up action on climate change. His Labor government has pledged to take further action to curb emissions, including strengthening a system to cut corporate emissions.

The climate legislation will return to the House of Representatives where it is expected to pass quickly due to the Labor government’s majority. 

Australia has long been seen as a laggard on the international stage when it came to climate action, with large fossil fuel exports offset by the bare minimum of emission cuts. The country is one of the largest exporters of coal in the world, the second largest thermal coal shipper and a key supplier of natural gas.

Australia had previously passed a price on carbon emissions in 2011 under then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, however it was repealed just two years later by the centre-right Liberal National Coalition after winning elections in 2013. BLOOMBERG

Find out more about climate change and how it could affect you on the ST microsite here.