There has been a major development in international cooperation to address the global issue of climate change, with 194 countries, including Australia, signing the Paris Agreement by December 2016. This agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.
As its contribution, the Australian Government has committed to reduce emissions to 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Governments at all levels have continued to implement policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nationally, a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme that started in 2012 was replaced in 2014 with a Direct Action Plan, which includes the Emissions Reduction Fund. (See ‘Effectiveness of managing climate change’.)
A number of state and territory governments have introduced legislation, policies and programs that seek to go further than Australia’s national commitments. For example, the South Australian Government has a commitment to produce 33 per cent of the state’s electricity requirements from renewable energy sources by 2020, and the Australian Capital Territory Government has established emissions reductions targets for the territory of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 and a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels by 2020.
Australia has had national standards and goals for ambient air quality for almost 20 years: the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality. State and territory environment protection agencies are increasingly using nonregulatory measures (such as codes of practice, market-based mechanisms and cleaner production incentive schemes) to complement regulatory controls.
Since 2011, successful regulatory controls on vehicle emissions have reduced the levels of nitrogen dioxide to well below the hourly and annual average standard set by the National Environment Protection Measure. The Australian Government is considering introducing light vehicle CO2 emissions standards, bringing the country into line with best-practice standards in most developed countries, and potentially further reducing CO2 pollution from light vehicles by 100 million tonnes between 2020 and 2030 (Argyriou & Ferraro 2016).
National processes for promoting and enforcing fuel and new-vehicle emission-control standards are well established. A new Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions aims to improve coordination at a national level between departments. However, disbandment of bodies, such as the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee, has the potential to reduce the input to decision-making of independent experts.