November 1997

Environment Minister Robert Hill attends the Kyoto Climate Summit as representative of the Howard government. Australia emerges with large concessions for its agricultural activities and is one of only three countries permitted to increase its emissions under the deal.

April 2001

The Howard Cabinet resolves not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Australia and the United States are the only major industrialised nations not to ratify the Protocol.


This is the driest year on record for many parts of Australia, and the peak of a drought lasting from 1996 to 2009.

March 2007

Kevin Rudd, having become the Leader of the Opposition in December 2006, declares that “climate change is the great moral challenge of our generation”.

June 2007

Prime Minister John Howard announces the Federal Government will introduce emissions trading by 2012.

November 2007

The Labor Party is elected to Federal Government, with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

December 2007

The first official act of the new Labor Government is to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Two weeks later, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addresses the Bali Conference saying “climate change is a top priority of the new Australian Government.”

December 2008

Labor commits to a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), a cap-and-trade scheme to start July 2010. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Australia will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.

August 2009

The Senate votes against CPRS for the first time.

November 2009

Reports of a deal between Rudd Government and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull to pass the CPRS.

December 2009

Tony Abbott becomes Opposition Leader following leadership challenge to Malcolm Turnbull. The CPRS bill is voted down in Parliament for the second time. Malcolm Turnbull crosses the floor to support the bill.

December 2009

Prime Minister Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong attend Copenhagen climate summit. No consensus is achieved with the international community on a deal to limit global warming.

April 2010

Prime Minister Rudd announces that the CPRS legislation will be put on hold until end 2012.

June 2010

Prime Minister Rudd resigns and Julia Gillard becomes Prime Minister.

August 2010

Prime Minister Gillard promises there will be no ‘carbon tax’ under her government.

September 2010

The Federal Election produces a hung parliament. Prime Minister Gillard forms a minority government by signing an agreement, including on climate issues, with the Australian Greens.

November 2011

The Parliament passes the Clean Energy Act 2011, which provides the framework for a carbon price mechanism starting with a three year fixed price phase. Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott commits to repealing what he calls a ‘carbon tax’ and conservative media commences a campaign against a price on carbon.

June/July 2012

The Clean Energy Act comes into force and Australian businesses are able to purchase an unlimited number of carbon units at a fixed price of $23. Some commentary focuses on the price of carbon in Europe, which is between $8 and $13.

April/May 2013

The carbon price in Europe collapses, in some cases as low as $3.34. Australian businesses are still paying a fixed price of $23 a tonne. A budget update from February 2013 says the carbon price raised $3.8 billion in its first six months.

June 2013

Prime Minister Julia Gillard continues to be attacked by the Opposition for having allegedly lied about introducing a ‘carbon tax’. Labor’s polling numbers continue to fall. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd mounts an internal challenge and again becomes Prime Minister.

September 2013

Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister at the federal election. He immediately disbands the Climate Commission and drafts legislation to repeal the Clean Energy Act.

October 2013

Funded by $900,000 in private donations, the Climate Council is launched to continue the work of the disbanded Climate Commission.

February 2014

After La Nina breaking the drought in 2010 and 2011, dry conditions return to Queensland in mid-2013, and spread quickly to northeast New South Wales. Monsoon rains in Queensland were delayed in 2015.

July 2014

The carbon price mechanism is repealed, with the support of the crossbench. Australia is described as the first nation to reverse policy action on climate change .

August 2015

The Federal Government announces an emissions reduction target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

September 2015

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says that the people have made up their minds about the leadership of Tony Abbott based on the Government losing 30 Newspolls in a row. Malcolm Turnbull becomes the 29th Prime Minister of Australia after an internal party challenge.

December 2015

Australia agrees to adopt the Paris Agreement in which all nations submit, revise and review national emissions reduction pledges with a view to keeping the global temperature increase well below 2°C and aiming for 1.5°C.

April 2016

Australia is among 175 countries to sign Paris Agreement in New York. Environment Minister Greg Hunt announces that Australia will aim to ratify the Agreement by the end of the year.

September 2016

Large parts of South Australia lose power following a violent storm. Some blame the state’s reliance on renewable energy, but the Australian Energy Market Operator later reports two tornadoes likely caused the electrical faults. But this report also says that nine of the state’s 13 wind farms did switch off because they were unable to withstand voltage disturbances, which caused the blackout.

March 2017

Hazelwood coal-fired power station, which provided approximately one quarter of Victoria’s energy needs, closes, prompting public concerns about electricity prices and blackouts in the future. Treasurer Scott Morrison directs the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to hold an inquiry into the supply of retail electricity and the competitiveness of retail electricity prices.

July 2017

Electricity prices continue to rise. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel says Australia’s energy market is not equipped to deal with the closure of coal-fired powers stations and transition to renewable energy.

October 2017

Prime Minister Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg announce the plan for the National Energy Guarantee. The scheme obliges energy suppliers and retailers to guarantee a minimum amount of power at an average emissions level, consistent with Australia’s commitments under the Paris agreement. A national energy mix between renewables and legacy generators is incorporated.

December 2017

Despite the Federal Government urging AGL to keep the Liddell coal-fired power plant open to avoid electricity shortages, AGL announces that the plant will close as intended by 2022.

August 2018

Prime Minister Turnbull announces the emissions reduction component of the National Energy Guarantee will be abandoned due to disagreement within the Coalition, leaving the scheme to focus solely on price and reliability. This announcement is made three days before the Coalition leadership spill. Scott Morrison is sworn in as Prime Minister on 24 August 2018.

November 2018

The Labor party announce a new energy policy that builds on the National Energy Guarantee and allocates billions to renewable energy. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten calls for bipartisan support for this policy.

February 2019

Australia experiences its hottest summer on record.

April 2019

Prime Minister Morrison calls a federal election for 18 May.

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