This study aimed to investigate whether long-term HbA1c variability is associated with the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy (DR) in subjects with type 2 diabetes. We retrospectively reviewed 434 type 2 diabetes subjects without DR who underwent regular DR screening. We reviewed fundus findings, collected HbA1c levels, and calculated the coefficient of variation (CV) and average real variability (ARV) of each subject’s HbA1c level. DR was developed in 55 subjects and progressed to moderate nonproliferative DR or worse DR in 23 subjects. On Cox proportional hazards regression analysis, HbA1c ARV, but not HbA1c CV, was significantly associated with DR development. However, the association between HbA1c variability and the DR progression rate to moderate nonproliferative DR or worse DR was not significant. The inter-visit HbA1c difference value on consecutive examination predicted DR development well and more careful screening for DR is needed for those with an absolute value change of 2.05%, an absolute increase of 1.75%, and an absolute decrease of 1.45% in HbA1c levels on consecutive examination. These results indicate that long-term glucose variability measured by HbA1c ARV might be an independent risk factor for DR development in addition to the mean HbA1c level in early diabetic subjects.