Water, Climate Change and the Environment

The natural environment is fundamental to the wellbeing of all Australians and its preservation is our bequest to future generations.

But Australia is vulnerable to climate change, with projections for a drier climate in our traditional agricultural regions and a greater frequency of floods, droughts and storms, and rising sea-levels which could severely affect coastal areas. These climate change risks could affect our water availability, agricultural production, tourism, infrastructure and Australia’s unique biodiversity.

COAG is taking strong action to address climate change and adapt to a future with less water.


National Water Initiative

In 2004, COAG agreed to the Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Water Initiative (NWI), covering a range of areas where best-practice and nationally-consistent approaches to water management will bring substantial benefits. The NWI is applauded internationally as a model for sound water governance, for addressing the challenges of cross-jurisdictional management of shared resources, and for harvesting the power of markets and price signals to encourage efficient water management, use and investment.

An assessment of the NWI by the National Water Commission in September 2011 found that the principles of the NWI have been robust and effective over its seven years of operation. All parties to the NWI have made solid progress in delivering on their reform commitments. These efforts are delivering real and substantial benefits to water users, the environment and the economy.

Following the assessment by the National Water Commission (NWC), COAG requested the Standing Council on Environment and Water (SCEW) prepare a report on the next stage of water reform.  In response, SCEW prepared the report, Next Steps in National Water Reform: Preparations for the Future.  The report, developed in consultation with the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, as well as peak national organisations, identifies key issues including the need to build on the success of the past, and to further prepare for the challenges of the future, including projected growth in water demand.


National Water Commission

The National Water Commission (NWC) oversees the COAG national water reform agenda. The NWC supports the implementation of the National Water Initiative and Murray-Darling Basin reforms and provides independent assurance on the progress of all governments.  The NWC plays a valuable role as a credible, specialist and independent agency supporting national water reforms, and provides high-quality advice to COAG on the effectiveness of its water reforms.

COAG agreed on 13 April 2012 to continue the NWC for the life of the NWI, refocusing it on the core functions of audit, assessment and monitoring.


Murray-Darling Basin

On 5 June 2013, a new Intergovernmental Agreement between the Commonwealth and States on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin came into effect. This Agreement builds on the 2008 Intergovernmental Agreement and supports the objectives of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which passed through the Commonwealth Parliament in November 2012.

The Murray-Darling Basin covers one-seventh of Australia, and is one of our country’s most important social, economic and environmental resources. The Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Darling, Goulburn and Condamine-Balonne rivers are iconic parts of Australia’s identity. Over three million Australians, living within and outside the Basin, are directly dependent on its water. Economically, the Basin supports a vital agricultural industry. Environmentally, the Basin has 16 internationally recognised wetlands.

Under the new Intergovernmental Agreement, Governments reaffirmed their commitment to a culture and practice of Basin-wide management and planning. The Commonwealth and States will work together to contribute to a healthy, working Basin through putting water use on a sustainable footing, enhancing irrigation productivity, providing water for critical human needs, and providing farmers and communities with more confidence to plan for a future with less water.

Renewable Energy Target

On 30 April 2009, COAG agreed to the design of the new expanded national Renewable Energy Target (RET), which will ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity is from renewable sources by 2020.

The RET is providing certainty for investors, stimulating substantial investment in a broad range of renewable energy technologies.  The expanded scheme has been implemented through Commonwealth legislation, with increased annual targets from 2010.  The targets increase annually to 2020 and will be maintained at that level to 2030 when the RET scheme will end.

In agreeing to the expanded RET, COAG also agreed that some specific design issues should be the subject of consideration in a review which was known as the COAG Review of Specific RET Issues. Additional issues were subsequently included in the review in November 2009.  Upon its establishment, the COAG Select Council on Climate Change finalised the review and provided its final report to the Climate Change Authority (CCA) as input into the 2012 statutory review of the RET.  The final report was also provided to COAG.


National Strategy on Energy Efficiency

Better energy efficiency is a vital part of the strategy to combat climate change and reduce the cost of emissions abatement. It will complement the carbon price, reduce the impact of rising electricity prices and improve the productivity of the economy.

On 2 July 2009, COAG adopted the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency, which was in turn updated in June 2010. The Strategy focuses on improving energy efficiency in four areas:

  • helping households and businesses to transition to a low carbon future;
  • reducing impediments to the uptake of energy efficiency;
  • making buildings more energy efficient; and
  • governments working in partnership and leading the way.

The Strategy is part of the National Partnership Agreement on Energy Efficiency which COAG agreed on 2 July 2009. The National Partnership Agreement provides overarching direction and objectives for the Strategy. It is providing a nationally consistent and coordinated approach to energy efficiency, recognising the need for flexible approaches, and encouraging cooperation on innovative measures to improve the efficiency of energy generation, supply and use.

The Select Council on Climate Change oversees implementation of the Agreement and the Strategy.