Australia worst in the world on Climate Action - SDG Performance examined.

This month the ‘Global Responsibilities’ report was released, a comprehensive Country Index of UN Member States and their progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It provides an in-depth assessment of their commitment to progress. Unfortunately, it also revealed that Australia is not only lagging behind its G20 counterparts but has the worst performance in the world on climate action.

How are the G20 performing on the SDGs?

Australia’s positioned No. 37 out of the 156. Outranked by the USA, (No.35), New Zealand (No.17), and Japan (No.15). Top three in the rank are Sweden, Denmark and Finland. 

Integrating the SDGs poses major challenges for all countries, with large variation in leadership and embeddedness of the SDGs. Australia was 16th place in the G20 national coordination and implementation rank, as shown below.

An alarming discovery this year was that these high-income countries generate significant environmental, economic, and security ‘spill over effects’ that undermine other countries’ efforts to achieve the SDGs.











Where and why is Australia failing?

Australia is performing badly on Goals 2 ,7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17.


Australia 2018 SDG Dashboard. 

Australia 2018 SDG Dashboard. 

Australia 2018 SDG Dashboard. 

The Index was compiled before Australia’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) on SDGs, however it still remains an accurate snapshot of Australia’s challenges.


Australia performed poorly here due to high obesity rates, as the percentage of the population with a BMI above thirty is 29%.  The VNR also mentions temporary food insecurity as an issue, with 15% of Australians experiencing temporary food insecurity in 2017.


Given that 85% of Australia’s current electricity production relies on coal and gas, a high CO2 emissions from fuel combustion and export of coal (Mt.Co2/Twh 1.6) was to be expected. The Index reported the share of renewable energy in total final energy consumption as 9.2 (%), it now stands at around 15-16 per cent of Australia’s electricity according to the VNR.


Sadly, the elderly poverty rate in Australia is 25.7%. Another reason for this low rank is the fraught relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Closing the Gap framework was developed by the government in 2008, however large inequalities and disadvantages remain.  


Measured by high eWaste (20kg/per capita) and emissions caused in production of goods, such as Production based SO2 sulphur dioxide (65.4kg/per capita) this is one of the worst performing areas. There are still major challenges in the recycling industry following the China recycling ban, low awareness of e-waste and an embryonic circular economy.

The government has been slow to regulate manufacturing and waste industries, only recently developing a National Waste Policy. The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation was given the green light to manage the voluntary target of making 100% of packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.


Australia has the ‘top spot’ for worst in the world on climate, 23.3 out of 100, the lowest out of all the countries assessed. The VNR reported an Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and investment into climate adaptation research via universities as viable action, but it is clearly not enough to skirt around the big issue of dirty energy production and export.

Energy-related CO2 emissions per capita (15.4 tCO2/capita), Climate Change Vulnerability Monitor 0.2 (best 0-1 worst) and CO2 emissions embodied in fossil fuel exports (43996.4 kg/capita) this is dire given the average country score here was 4095.3kg.



Plastic pollution and land-based activity pose the greatest threats to ocean health. The Australian Ocean Health Index score was 41.3 (scale of 0-100). Considering Australia is an Island nation this is an area causing much controversy. However  environmental groups such as the Boomerang Alliance have done a great job of bringing the issue to the public's attention and lobbying government for more action.



Confirming what was found in Australia’s most recent State of the Environment Report (2016), Australia’s biodiversity has continued to decline. The VNR shows that more than 1,700 species and ecological communities are threatened and at risk of extinction. Australia performed poorly on annual change in forest area (9.4 %) and imported biodiversity threats (30.6 threats per million population).


The low rank here was due to the percentage of GDP set aside for development assistance (0.2 % GNI).  Given the depth of the transformation required, shared direction is critical. However, this is something all countries are struggling with. The cross and multi-sector partnerships needed are not happening enough or deep enough, long term commitments are needed to deliver systemic change.

Australia will soon create a national data-set to measure their own performance against the SDGs, as the Voluntary National Review was largely a narrative document.

We have much to do as a country to enable inclusive and sustainable growth, for both Australians and the globe.

What’s the opportunity for Businesses?

This Better Business Better World report released by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, a group led by 35 CEOs and civil society leaders concluded that the SDGS could unlock up to $12 trillion in value in four major global systems – food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and wellbeing –and create up to 380 million new jobs by 2030.

Our consumption rates are unsustainable, as the Index showed that most high-income countries are performing poorly on 12, 14, and 15, with either little or no progress being made. There is an urgent need for solutions that rethink how we produce and consume.

The Global opportunity report 2018 highlights four Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 10, 12, 13 and 14) that are at risk of missing their 2030 targets, and 10 new business opportunities which help these four goals progress. Accelerated action is required, particularly on Climate SDG 13.

Business has a real opportunity to create value for their shareholders, customers and society at large by aligning their strategic plans to SDG outcomes by using the SDGs as a management tool to enable inclusive and sustainable growth.

If you appreciated this article, please like, comment and share.

If we are not yet connected on Linkedin, please do so by clicking here.