United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the main global forum for climate change negotiations. The UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in March 1994 and now has 195 members. UNFCCC members (Parties) meet annually as the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP).

Negotiations in the UNFCCC cover themes which include:

  • Mitigation – reducing levels of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Adaptation – building resilience to the impacts of climate change
  • Climate finance – financing mitigation, adaptation and other activities
  • Technology - the development and transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries
  • Capacity building for developing countries
  • Transparency – tracking countries’ emissions and actions
  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

Australia's 2030 Emissions Reduction Target

The former Prime Minister, together with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Environment, announced that Australia will reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they are 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. An issues paper was released to inform the process.

This is a strong, fair and responsible target. It builds on Australia’s strong track record of success in reducing emissions and steps up our efforts into the future.

Australia exceeded its first Kyoto target and is on track to meet and beat its 2020 target.

Further information is available explaining Australia’s 2030 target, and the actions Australia is taking to address climate change, in a series of factsheets.

The Taskforce’s Review Report, which informed the Government’s 2030 target, has been released. Modelling conducted for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in support of the review report is also available.    

The review of Australia’s post-2020 emissions reduction target was co-ordinated by the UNFCCC Taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Taskforce worked closely with the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Environment, Industry and Science, Infrastructure and Regional Development, Agriculture and the Treasury.

A New Global Agreement on Climate Change

Australia will play its part in addressing climate change and continue to enjoy strong economic growth.

Climate change is a global issue. All countries must work together to address it.

The 2030 target has been developed as part of Australia’s preparations for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris in December 2015, where negotiations on a new global climate agreement will conclude.

You can find out more in the accompanying fact sheet, 'Preparing for a new global climate agreement', and at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

Public Consultation on Australia's Emissions Reduction Target

The Prime Minister, together with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Environment, announced a public consultations process on Australia’s post-2020 emissions reduction target on 28 March 2015. An issues paper was released to inform the process.

Terms of reference

Climate change is a global issue requiring all countries to work together. Australia supports strong and effective action and will play a responsible role in addressing this issue, and also act in a way that protects our international competitiveness and national interest.

Australia has committed to work constructively towards the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Conference. In preparation, a taskforce has been established in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to coordinate the provision of information to the Government. The taskforce will ensure the Prime Minister, and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Industry and Science, and the Environment are fully informed on developments in the science, domestic and international emissions trends and the climate change policies of other countries.

The taskforce will provide advice on Australia’s approach to climate change and on the development of the negotiating strategy for the UNFCCC, drawing appropriately from the evidence. The Government has committed to a review of emissions reduction targets in 2015 in the context of negotiations on the new global climate agreement to be concluded at the Paris conference. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Environment will oversight the review, which the taskforce will coordinate.

Taskforce responsibilities will also include coordination and advice on options to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to our changing climate and the range, combination and cost of domestic instruments that could be used to meet a post-2020 target.

The taskforce will comprise seconded officers from relevant portfolios, draw on and coordinate related activity across Government, and draw on the expertise of scientists and academics as required.


Questions about the Government’s target setting process

How can I be involved in the review of targets?

Submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Taskforce have now closed. 

Submissions are now available to view on the Taskforce’s website, unless the author requested their submission not be made publicly available.

When will the Government announce the target?

On 11 August 2015, the Government announced that Australia will reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they are 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

What is the Climate Change Authority special review?

The Climate Change Authority is an independent statutory agency, established to provide expert advice on Australian climate change policy. The Minister for the Environment has asked the Climate Change Authority to conduct a Special Review. The Authority will assess whether or not Australia should have an emissions trading scheme, what future reduction targets it should set, and what actions Australia should take to implement outcomes flowing from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris in 2015. Among other things, the Authority is to take into account the policies of other key countries, and international competitiveness issues for Australian businesses.

The Authority has sought comments from interested parties on Australia’s emissions reduction targets. The Authority’s review is separate from the review by the UNFCCC Taskforce. It will provide additional, independent advice to assist government decision making.

Further information is available at the Authority's website.

Questions about climate change and international negotiations

What is a target?

A target expresses a country’s commitment to reduce emissions. Targets can take many forms.

For developed countries such as Australia, targets are expected to take the form of a whole‑of-economy commitment to reduce emissions by a specified percentage over a specified timeframe. Such targets generally compare emissions in a base year (e.g. 1990, 2000) against emissions in a target year (e.g. 2030). For example, Australia’s 2020 target is expressed as a five per cent decrease in emissions compared to our emissions in 2000. This can also be described in terms of a 2005 base, which is a 13 per cent reduction by 2020. This is known as a “point target”, as our target relates to our emissions at a point in time. Targets can also take the form of a “carbon budget”, which puts a cap on total emissions over a period of multiple years. This is the system in place under the Kyoto Protocol.

Australia’s 2030 target will be developed into a carbon budget covering the period 2021-2030.

Will the target be binding?

The final form of the Paris agreement, including the legal nature of national targets, is a matter of ongoing negotiations between all UNFCCC countries.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol (the Protocol) is an international agreement under the UNFCCC that commits developed countries to binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012 and aimed to reduce the collective greenhouse gas emissions of developed country Parties by at least five per cent below 1990 levels. Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol on 3 December 2007, adopting a Quantified Emissions Limitation or Reduction Obligation (QELRO) limiting Australia’s emissions growth over the first commitment period to 108 per cent of 1990 levels. During that time Australia’s emissions were limited to 103 per cent of 1990 levels, which was considerably less than Australia’s target of 108 per cent.

In 2012, the Protocol was amended to establish a second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. Australia submitted a second commitment period QELRO of 99.5 per cent, which is consistent with the Government’s target to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. 

What is the Paris Agreement?

At the Durban UNFCCC Conference in December 2011, Parties agreed to establish the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

The mandate of the ADP is to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” (1/CP.17). The agreement is to be completed no later than 2015 and to come into effect and be implemented from 2020. This is being referred to as the Paris Agreement, as the work should be completed at the next Conference of the Parties which will be held from 30 November to 11 December 2015 in Paris, France. 

The Paris Agreement will set out how countries tackle climate change after 2020, when current emissions reductions commitments under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol lapse. In addition to mitigation commitments, the agreement is expected to cover other aspects of international cooperation on climate change including international climate finance, adaptation, transparency, reporting, technology transfer and capacity building.

What is an INDC?

Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) refers to the document that countries are expected to submit to the UNFCCC well in advance of Paris.  In this document, Parties will set out clearly and transparently what they will do after 2020 to contribute to achieving the objectives of the UNFCCC. INDCs are expected to include a country’s proposed emission reduction target for the Paris Agreement, and may also include information on how they will adapt to climate change.

Countries are expected to describe the key parameters of their target, including a reference point (e.g. base year) and coverage of greenhouse gases and sectors. They are also expected to explain how the target is fair and ambitious in light of their national circumstances, and how it contributes to achieving the UNFCCC’s objective of stabilising emissions at a level that would avoid dangerous climate change.

INDCs submitted to date by countries. Further detail on INDCs and international negotiations is on the preparing for a new global agreement fact sheet.


Questions about greenhouse gas emissions

What are greenhouse gas emissions?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases in the atmosphere that absorb and emit infrared or heat radiation, thus trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases vary in their ability to trap heat and in their time spent in the atmosphere. Global warming potentials measure how much a particular greenhouse gas contributes to global warming and are used to convert greenhouse gases to carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e).

Consistent with international reporting requirements Australia estimates greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities for seven greenhouse gases, known as the Kyoto gases:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)
  • Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).

The primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities is carbon dioxide.

What is carbon leakage?

Carbon leakage is the idea that increased production costs in countries with restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions may shift economic activity to countries with lower production costs, leading to increased emissions in non-regulating countries.

What are Australia’s National Greenhouse Accounts?

Australia’s national greenhouse accounts comprise a series of reports which together form a comprehensive inventory of Australia’s current and historical greenhouse gas emissions. Australia’s national greenhouse accounts track Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to the current year and report emissions by gas, by source, by State and Territory and by economic sector. A broad range of public and private institutions contribute data to the Government to support the estimation of national emissions.

The national greenhouse accounts are compiled in accordance with internationally agreed rules and are used to track Australia’s progress towards meeting our emission reduction commitments.

Further information on the National Greenhouse Accounts can be found on the Department of the Environment’s website.

What are Australia’s emissions projections?

Projections of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are released on a regular basis. The projections forecast Australia’s future greenhouse gas emissions under a range of policy environments and scenarios.

Australia’s emissions projections are completed by the Department of the Environment with input from external consultants and use a mix of computable general equilibrium and partial equilibrium models and sector-specific models.

Australia’s emissions projections are made in accordance with international requirements and indicate how forecast emission outcomes compare against Australia’s emission reduction commitments.

Further information on Australia’s emissions projections can be found on the Department of the Environment’s fact sheet.

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