Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Nina Lansbury Hall, The University of Queensland; Dani J. Barrington, The University of Queensland, and Russell Richards, The University of Queensland

Australia will join the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. Some of the discussion will focus on progressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as agreed at the UN last year.

Australia is a signatory to the goals, but it is difficult to know where to begin, as the goals are further broken down into 169 targets. These range from eradicating extreme poverty to developing measurements of progress on sustainable development.

But new research from the University of Queensland reveals that actions on climate change (SDG 13) and global partnerships (SDG 17) are likely to influence all other efforts by Australia to achieve the other SDGs.

Australia’s role in sustainable development

The SDGs form part of the UN development agenda, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, released in September 2015.

Unlike the preceding UN Millennium Development Goals, which ran until 2015, the SDGs apply to all countries and citizens to create a common outlook, irrespective of the country’s level of development. The new goals are to be achieved by 2030.

The Australian government has emphasised the role of the SDGs in reinforcing economic growth, development and investment in the Indo-Pacific region, and has assigned the SDGs to the portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and Environment.

Australia’s support for the SDGs is laudable. But the focus on international trade and investment, with responsibilities placed in only two portfolios, limits Australia’s potential for significant social, economic and environmental improvement on the SDGs at home and abroad.

But where do we start?

Part of the challenge of the SDGs is their complexity and the way they link together. This may explain Australia’s limited approach to date.

To help navigate this web of goals, we mapped the most influential goals. We found the goals that affect all the others are climate action (SDG 13) and global partnerships (SDG 17), as shown in the figure below. Without these, the other goals are very difficult to attain.

Proposed relationships between 17 UN Sustainable Development Targets
Global Change Institute, UQ

For example, the increased intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change will likely make it harder to achieve clean drinking water under SDG 6. In droughts, less water is available, and in floods, the water is often contaminated. Both events result in the proliferation of diseases.

These findings also identified that the goal for health and wellbeing (SDG 3) is the ultimate goal: every other SDG contributes towards this outcome. For example, a woman who has given birth to a daughter cannot achieve optimal physical, social and mental wellbeing for herself and her child without proper nutrition (SDG 2), access to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), gender equality (SDG 5) and adequate financial resources (SDG 1).

We also found that within SDG 6, implementing the integrated water resources management target (6.5) enables the other SDG 6 targets to be met. Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin is a good example of this type of approach. There, states negotiated across borders to reduce salinity, minimise extractions and improve water quality.

Can we do it?

Linking together these goals will require high-level government co-ordination beyond merely the DFAT and environment portfolios.

Our policy analysis found that no single portfolio can take responsibility for the entire set of 17 SDGs – and that all 21 government departments have more than one SDG relevant to their responsibilities.

Australia’s ability to progress the SDGs in Australia and overseas is likely to be more attainable with the involvement and cross-collaboration of other portfolios.

Damaged and polluted waterways affect the ability to attain the Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation (SDG 6).
Sanjog Chakraborty

The UN SDGs are an opportunity for Australia’s efforts towards sustainable development to be recognised on a global stage. To achieve progress on this complex agenda we have to understand that climate action and global partnerships are crucial to sustainable development and ultimately to health and wellbeing.

The Conversation

Nina Lansbury Hall, Sustainable Water Program Manager, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland; Dani J. Barrington, Lecturer, Global Change Institute, Honorary Fellow, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland, and Russell Richards, , The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


FactCheck: has Australia met its climate goals, while other nations make 'airy-fairy promises'?

Anita Talberg, University of Melbourne and Malte Meinshausen, University of Melbourne

The difference between Australia and a lot of other countries … is when we make commitments to reduce emissions we keep them. Other countries make all these airy fairy promises, that in the end never come to … anything. – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, July 13, 2015.

There are two parts to the Prime Minister’s statement: in the first, he affirms that to date Australia has been true to its emissions reduction commitments; in the second, he suggests that other countries have not.

Has Australia kept its emissions reduction commitments?

International negotiations on climate change have been underway since the 1990s. The first set of emissions-reduction commitments were made for the 2008-12 period under an agreement known as the Kyoto Protocol. Developed countries agreed to restrict their greenhouse gas emissions by predetermined amounts over the period.

An entire set of rules, procedures and methodologies was established to account for and monitor greenhouse gas emissions over that period. And of course, each country set its own target and negotiated special conditions along with it.

Under the 2008-12 agreement, Australia’s target was to keep the increase in its emissions to within 8% of 1990 levels. Australia effectively met that target.

The subsequent commitment period is from 2013 to 2020. Over this period, Australia initially committed to reducing its emissions by 5% unconditionally and potentially by as much as 15% or 25% below 2000 levels by 2020. The higher targets were contingent on there being commensurate action from other countries (and the Climate Change Authority found that these conditions have, in fact, been met).

Australia reaffirmed the full range of targets as recently as the climate change negotiations in Doha in 2012. However, in subsequent climate change conferences, Australia has talked of its 5% target but not mentioned the 15% or 25% targets until pressed to do so (see webcast here). The website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade mentions only the 5% target and the government has stated that:

The Government is committed to reducing Australia’s emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020… Any additional targets will be reviewed in 2015 in the lead up to the Paris conference, as has been our longstanding position.

Have other countries kept their emissions reduction commitments?

There was a fair range in commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. The European Union, as a bloc, committed to reducing emissions by 8% on 1990 levels over the 2008-12 period; New Zealand pledged a 0% increase; and Australia, as mentioned, committed to 108% of 1990 levels.

Importantly, only developed countries made commitments because these countries bear a responsibility to act first and foremost. However, over the past couple of years, developing countries have begun to make pledges to limit future greenhouse gas emissions (by 2020, 2025 or 2030).

Under the accounting rules of the Kyoto Protocol, there are a few ways that countries can meet their targets. The main one is to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. However, if a country cannot reduce emissions sufficiently in its national territory, it can buy emissions reduction credits from another country, or it can pay for emissions reductions in another country. These options are known as flexibility mechanisms.

Although the Kyoto Protocol commitment period ended in 2012, the accounting rules state that countries can continue buying and selling credits into 2015. This extended period is known as the “true-up” period. Because the true-up period is ongoing, there is still some wiggle room for countries to buy extra credits and thus keep their promises.

Looking to the numbers

Shown in the chart below, we have calculated from official figures submitted to United Nations body that manages the Kyoto Protocol how countries are tracking against their Kyoto targets. As the charts below show, a number of countries and blocs have done even better than they originally promised, including the European Union (which reduced its emissions 18% below its Kyoto target), Australia and New Zealand.

The chart below shows by how much countries have come in above or below their targets. For example, Australia is shown as -4% because it came in 4% below the target it agreed to meet.


For those countries that didn’t reach their emissions reduction target, this second chart shows how they could meet their targets through the use of international emissions credits already purchased.


From looking at both of these charts, one country stands out: Japan.

Japan committed to a 6% reduction on its 1990 level of emissions. It is 1% above its stated target. Japan’s excess of emissions is in part due to the government’s response to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. Following the meltdown, the government reduced its reliance on nuclear power and was forced to resort to additional fossil fuel based energy.

However, Japan has continually affirmed that it will meet its Kyoto target (see here and here). It can still do so by purchasing offset credits as part of the flexibility mechanisms.

What about the US and Canada?

Both the United States and Canada are missing from the table. The proposed US target was a 7% reduction. However, the US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and therefore the proposal is not considered a “promise”.

Canada pledged a 6% reduction on its 1990 levels. Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 citing the absence of the US and China (the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters) as the reason.

Given the lack of Kyoto accounting data, an exact evaluation of Canada’s emissions cannot be made against its stated targets. However, the United Nations provides a graph here, that suggests that Canada is unlikely to have met its target (even with the use of flexibility mechanisms).


The Prime Minister is correct on the implication in the first part of his statement: that Australia has met its previous target under the Kyoto Protocol. However, this was not an emissions reduction commitment; it was a commitment to limit its emissions increase. Australia also made a 2020 emissions reduction promise to strengthen its target to -15% or -25%, but this “never came to anything”.

The Prime Minister is incorrect on the implication in the second part of his statement: that most other countries have not met their targets. One country (Canada) out of 39 developed countries made a promise that came to nothing; and one other country (Japan) did not reduce its own emissions by as much as it said it would (however, Japan can still fulfil its promise by buying emission credits from elsewhere).


The article is correct. It is true that with the major exception of Japan, countries that ratified the Kyoto treaty have met their commitments – including Australia. However, to some degree this was not really due to their efforts, with both Russia and other Eastern European countries benefiting from economic collapse and Europe to some degree benefiting from the 2008-9 recession. Canada did not meet its target and broke its promise by pulling out of Kyoto. It seems the United States met its original proposal (partly due to recession) without ever ratifying Kyoto.

At this stage, developing countries have made emissions proposals for 2020 only, and so it is too early to tell what will happen. China appears to be on track so far, though. Britain and some other countries have made longer-term pledges. But they can’t be assessed yet either, of course.

So, the majority of pledging countries have met their targets, though sometimes by accident. Technically, all those who remained in Kyoto apart from Japan met the targets. – David Stern

Have you ever seen a “fact” that doesn’t look quite right? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article.

You can request a check at Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

The Conversation

Anita Talberg is PhD student in the Australian German Climate and Energy College at University of Melbourne.
Malte Meinshausen is A/Prof., School of Earth Sciences at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


The New South Wales government is now considering some level of development in the national parks of New South Wales. Just what level of development that may be is yet to be made clear. It is understood that the development may include accommodation projects, various commercial enterprises and guided bush walks.

Tourism Minster Jodi McKay, a former news reader with NBN television, is waiting on a report from a government commissioned taskforce looking into ways that tourism can be increased in the state’s national parks.

The planned tourism development of national parks is a major step away from the ‘wilderness’ goals of recent times and represents a threat to the wilderness values of national parks and world heritage listed areas.

However, a certain level of development may be appropriate, given the serious deterioration of many of the amenities and signage within New South Wales national parks. Many access routes are also seriously degraded following years of poor management.

Perhaps a quality New South Wales national parks and reserves web site could be developed, with the current web site being quite dated and not particularly useful for visitors to the national parks of New South Wales. Quality information on the attractions and access to each national park would greatly improve the tourist potential of New South Wales national parks.

If quality visitor brochures/leaflets on such things as camping facilities, access routes, walking trails and park attractions could be developed and made available via PDF documents on the web site, potential visitors could plan their trips and this would certainly increase visitor numbers to the national parks.

Quality content and relevant up-to-date information on each national park, as well as well maintained access routes and facilities would encourage far more people to visit the national parks and give visitors a memorable experience.

BELOW: Footage of the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW.