Despite Labor's increased emissions target, Australia has only improved four places to 55th out of 63 in the annual index
Australia continues to trail other developed countries in addressing the climate crisis, in part due to the Albanese government's support for new fossil fuel developments, according to an analysis released at the Cop27 UN conference in Egypt.
The climate change performance index, published by Germanwatch, the NewClimate Institute and the Climate Action Network with input from 450 climate and energy experts and campaigners, found Australia was still a "very low performing country". It ranked 55th on a list of 63 countries and country groupings, up from 59th last year.
The authors welcome Australia's increased 2030 emissions reduction target - a legislated 43% cut compared with 2005 levels, up from a 26% under the Morrison government - but said it was still relatively weak. They noted its plans to introduce measures to tackle industrial emissions, slow electric vehicle uptake and energy use but said many of these changes were at an early stage action, and there would be a lag before they would have an impact on emissions.
The country received a "very low" score for its performance on emissions, renewable energy and energy use, and "low" for climate policy. It was marked down for having "no policies or national plan on phasing out coal and gas mining" and planning to increase coal and gas production by more than 5% by 2030.
"The increase is not compatible with the global 1.5C target," the report said.
Richie Merzian, climate and energy director with the Australia Institute, said the index showed while the Albanese government's climate policies were a major improvement compared with its predecessor, they were only a minor improvement compared to other countries.
"Without a plan to stop new gas and coal mining, which could be done through reforms to the safeguard mechanism, Australia lags well behind other major economies," he said.
Nicki Hutley, an economist with the Climate Council, said Australia had "gone from dead last to a pass". "Despite the nation's recent progress, there is no escaping just how far behind we are and how much catching up we've got to do," she said.
The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said the government was proud of its achievements in climate and energy in the less than six months since it was elected.
He said it had increased Australia's UN commitment - known as a nationally determined contribution - to a 43% cut by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, and was "driving an unprecedented transformation to a renewable grid" through its rewiring the nation policy and electricity transmission deals, including to deliver the Marinus link across Bass Strait.
"Australia is pleased that this increased ambition has been warmly welcomed by countless nations and private sector investors at Cop27," he said.
Australia trailed the world's two biggest emitters, China and the US, which were ranked 51st and 52nd. While China was found to be backing renewable energy at substantial levels, it was marked down for continuing to invest in new coal plants and failing to curb rising emissions. The US was praised for the passage of legislation including $US369bn in climate measures, but was held back by its high per capita emissions and renewable energy share. The authors found no country was yet on a 1.5C pathway. The top three spots on the table were left blank, reflecting that no one was performing at the level expected to justify such a high ranking. The top 10 countries, ranked from 4th to 13th, were Denmark, Sweden, Chile, Morocco, India, Estonia, Norway, the UK, the Philippines, and the Netherlands.
The bottom 10 was dominated by fossil fuel producers: Poland, Australia, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei, Canada, Russia, Korea, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and, in last place, Iran.
The authors said rather than cutting fossil fuel production, governments across the globe were planning to produce twice as much coal, oil and gas by 2030 as would be consistent with the global goal of limiting heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
"To keep the Paris agreement promises in reach no new permits for fossil fuel extraction should be handed out, and no new fossil fuel infrastructure switched on," the report said.