Achieving Net Zero Emissions by 2050

The importance of Net Zero Emissions

Australia needs to reach net zero emissions no later than 2050 and preferably sooner.

A bipartisan and federally legislated net zero emissions by 2050 target is required in order to achieve this (which includes being on track by 2030).

A clearly documented process for achieving net zero emissions by 2050 should be presented by the Government at the UN Climate Change Conference ( COP26) being held in Glasgow on 1-12 November, 2021

The proposed Climate Change Bill (introduced by Zali Steggall MP in November 2020) is one alternative for legislating Net Zero Emissions by 2050 that would greatly assist us.

Australia must more than quadruple the rate of GHG emissions reduction  to 17 Mt CO2-e per year, starting immediately, in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Quadrupling the current rate of reduction in national GHG emissions will be extremely challenging without implementing a price on carbon. 

Citizens’ Climate Lobby commends the Australian Climate Dividend (ACD) as the most fair and effective mechanism for implementing a price on carbon.  

The Australian Climate Dividend pays a regular climate dividend to all households, supported by a steadily rising fee levied on the carbon content of fossil fuels at source. The dividend helps decarbonise the economy and the fee gives a clear price signal to guide investors, businesses and consumers towards zero carbon technologies and products.

The combination of a legislated target NZE by 2050, an effective carbon price (preferably, the ACD),  Australia’s wealth of natural renewable energy sources, our research and development expertise and dynamic business and investment sector will  ensure our nation becomes a leader in the global race addressing climate change for a liveable world.


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Further Background

The case for net zero emissions by 2050 and preferably sooner

We know from the 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was that the consequences of 1°C of global warming are already ‘..clearly evident through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice..’ 

A number of climate change impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees as compared to 2 degrees.

According to the IPCC 2018 recommendations, achieving net zero emissions between 2050 and 2100 will limit global warming to 2°C.

Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 (NZE2050) may limit global warming to 1.5°C which would have ‘clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, (and) could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.’


The Federal Government needs to be more in-step globally and domestically 

The Federal Government is  under increasing pressure globally to commit to achieving NZE by 2050 and to make this commitment no later than the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be hosted by the UK Government in Glasgow in November 2021. Failure to do so risks being labelled a ‘climate laggard’.

The Prime Minister said at the National Press Club in February 2021  that ‘Our goal is to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050’ . However  there needs to be a more formal commitment  by the Federal Government to this target, noting that:

  • All State and Territory Governments and many Local Government Areas  having net zero emissions by 2050 (NZE2050) targets in place.
  • The ALP policy announcement in February 2020, of a NZE2050 target
  • US President Biden’s announcement in January 2021 that the US will undertake a path to NZE no later than 2050 and has re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Large industrial companies such as BHP, Woodside, BlueScope Steel, BP Australia, Orica, APA Group, Australian Gas Infrastructure Group and Westfarmers agreeing to make their operations carbon neutral by 2050.
  • Over 80% of Australia’s exports are to countries that have pledged net-zero emissions by the middle of the century (China, South Korea, the UK, the EU, and others) with 70% of what we sell to those countries being carbon intensive fossil fuels, minerals or metals.


Australia’s progress on reducing emissions 

Prior to the 2015 Paris UN Climate Talks (COP21) the Federal Government’s Climate Change Authority recommended Australia commit to an emissions reduction target of between 45 and 65 % below 2005 levels by 2030 so as to keep Australia reasonably on track to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The ‘Paris Agreement’ adopted was a much scaled back target of 26-28%

Reductions in Australia’s GHG emissions between 2005 and June 2020 totalled 16.6%, most of which occurred before the election of the Coalition Government in 2013 and prior to the repeal of the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government’s carbon tax in July 2014.

Figure 1: Comparison of GHG emissions targets (up to 30 June 2020). Courtesy of CCLA member, Dr. Dennys E. Angove PhD


Whilst there has been further GHG emissions reductions caused by the COVID pandemic, the average yearly rate of reduction since the Coalition came into office in 2013 has been 4.1 Mt CO2-e per year. To achieve net zero emissions by 2050 Australia must more than quadruple the rate of reduction in national GHG emissions to 17 Mt CO2-e per year starting immediately.

The most recent projections of Australian GHG emissions released in December 2020 by the Department of Industry, Science Energy and Resources, state that ‘Australia is on track to meet and beat its 2030 target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels’. This statement relies on a high level of technology success under a scenario aligned with the Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

If the policies being put into place by the current Federal Government continue to be as ineffective as the policies in place until June 2019, regardless of the pandemic effect, it is likely that Australia’s 2030 target of 26-28% will not be reached until after 2054 and net zero emissions not reached until after 2095.