8 things Chris Bowen didn’t tell you about Australia’s climate failure

by Olivia Chollet and Elizabeth Morison


Chris Bowen, the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, has presented the Annual Climate Change Statement to Parliament, but it didn’t tell the full story.

Minister for Climate Change Chris Bowen arrives for Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, November 30, 2023.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

The Annual Climate Change Statement serves as an assessment of Australia’s climate action efforts, and while it claimed some major progress in emissions reduction – including that Australia is in “striking distance” of 43% emissions reduction – but there were some glaring omissions.

So here at the Australia Institute, we’re filling in the gaps with our own assessment:

1/ Emissions are rising

Australia committed to achieving an emission reduction of 43% below 2005 levels by 2030. Yet not only have our actual emissions (excluding land use) only fallen by 0.8% from 2005, they have increased by 4 million tonnes in the last year when they should be falling dramatically. So not only is Australia a long way from reaching the target, we are not even on the right path.

2/ $11.1 billion spent on fossil fuel subsidies

Federal and state governments committed $11.1 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2022-23. This masks the true cost of fossil fuels and prevents clean sources of energy from being competitively priced. Despite the federal government’s pledges to help Pacific countries adapt to the existential threat of climate change, Australia is giving far more aid to fossil fuel companies than to our Pacific neighbours. In fact, according to Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio, the $11 billion the Government committed to fossil fuel subsidies in 2023 could fund the renewable energy transition for eight Pacific countries seven times over.

3/ Four new coal projects approved

Since its election, the Government has approved 4 new coal projects, amounting to 156 million tonnes of emissions over their lifetime. An additional 25 coal projects are in the pipeline for federal approval, which together could produce 12.7 billion tonnes of emissions. What’s more, the Government’s key climate policy, the Safeguard Mechanism, fails to prevent the approval of new fossil fuel projects. This is despite the International Energy Agency’s roadmap to net zero by 2050 shows that opening new gas and coal mines is incompatible with limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

4/ Gas continues to grow

Minister Bowen defends the “important role” of gas in the energy transition, including touting that in 2030 – when emissions should be plummeting – fossil gas will make up 18% of Australia’s energy mix. The Labor Government has also committed $1.5 billion for the Middle Arm “sustainable development” precinct in the NT, which will provide major export opportunities for fracked gas from the Beetaloo Basin.

5/ Parliament passed Sea Dumping legislation

At the same time, the federal government has been pushing forward the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill that claims it will ‘safeguard’ the marine environment by allowing the gas industry to store carbon dioxide under the seabed. In reality, even the Government acknowledges that the amendment is designed especially to prop up fossil fuel companies. Dr Monique Ryan, Member for Kooyong, has described the consequences of this project as taking liquefied carbon dioxide from Barossa, and pumping it the wrong way through a 20-year-old gas pipe, under much higher pressure than the gas that it was originally designed for, and sticking it under the seabed.

6/ Even more fossil fuel exports

Australia is the world’s third-largest fossil fuels exporter, and currently has 116 new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline. Even if domestic consumption of fossil fuels were to decrease, Australia would still be massively contributing to global emissions through its exports of gas and coal. As social licence for expanding fossil fuels in Australia slips, the federal government has turned its attention to international security as a reason to expand fossil fuel exports.

7/ No end in sight for native forest logging

Deforestation and logging is a significant contributor to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Ending native forest logging has overwhelming public support with seven in 10 Australians supporting extending native forest logging bans to NSW and Tasmania. Despite this, at the 2023 Labor conference, the Government rejected a national ban on native forest logging. Australia Institute research shows how that ending native forest logging is possible without harebrained and complicated market mechanisms.

8/ Government has failed to deliver fuel efficiency standards

Despite Chris Bowen’s promise to deliver fuel efficiency standards this year, Australia continues to lag behind because their design “can’t be rushed”, despite already being commonplace in 80% of the global light vehicle market. Fuel efficiency standards would require manufacturers to pay a penalty for inefficient vehicles, which produce more emissions, and cost more to fuel. In fact, Australia subsidises large four-wheel drives, instead of incentivising the uptake of low-emissions and electric vehicles. Australia Institute analysis found $5.9 billion in fuel costs would have been saved and emissions equivalent to a year’s worth of domestic flights would have been avoided, if robust fuel efficiency standards were adopted in 2015.

Between the Lines Newsletter

The biggest stories and the best analysis from the team at the Australia Institute, delivered to your inbox every fortnight.

You might also like