Wow, We Have a Climate Bill!
Welcome to the Australian Parents for Climate Action policy blog. In coming posts you’ll hear from members of our volunteer Policy & Submissions team as they do their best to untangle the complex issue of what good climate policy should look like. We’re not “policy wonks”, so we won’t always be right, but we’d value your perspectives by commenting on our posts. And if you like them, please share them!
What better place to start a policy blog than by looking at the first piece of meaningful climate legislation to pass the House of Representatives in a decade: the Climate Change Bill 2022.
Australian Parents for Climate Action welcomes legislation to enshrine emissions reduction targets. But to call it a “Climate Change” Bill is a bit of a stretch, when really, all it turns out to be is a Climate Emissions Reduction Targets Bill. And a pretty lowly target at that.
All it does is enshrine an emissions reduction target of a minimum of 43% off 2005 by 2030 and net zero by 2050. The 2030 target, as most of you will know, is below the average minimum required by all countries to have a chance of achieving the objective of the Paris Agreement of keeping global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees.
Australia, as a wealthy nation with outsized cumulative and per-capita emissions, is expected, under the Paris Agreement’s equity provisions, to slash emissions faster and harder than developing countries. As such, a target of 75% off 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2035 is what would be considered “doing our part.” Australia has for several decades been seen globally as a “leaner” on climate action. This legislation will do nothing to change that perception and is unbecoming of our traditional ANZAC spirit.
You can’t even call the legislation a Climate Targets Bill, because at no point does it express an objective of contributing – consistent with Australia’s means and with regard to our outsized cumulative emissions – to averting catastrophic levels of global heating that would materially and irreparably harm the Australian people, our environment and economy. It is as if this doesn’t matter.
In its current form, the Climate Bill 2022 is largely symbolic, with weak means of enforcement (amounting mainly to allowing or requiring certain agencies to consider achievement of the targets in their decision making) and no consequences for non-achievement.
While it contains a floor for the 2030 target, it does not include a ratchet mechanism to lift ambition over time. It merely “does not prevent or limit” a government from setting a new Nationally Determined Contribution (the commitment countries make to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the Paris Agreement. If a government chooses to announce a new NDC, that doesn’t even make its way back into the legislation.
And at the end of the day, it’s the speed of emissions cuts that makes more impact on the climate than simply achieving a given level of reduction by a certain year. As the saying goes in climate action circles: “winning slowly on climate is still losing.” Climate & energy analyst Ketan Joshi illustrates this well in the figures below:
Figure 1 and 2: Rapid emissions reduction is critical now. The difference in cumulative emissions between steep cuts now and later is critical. Net zero by 2050 does not limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees unless there are steep cuts this decade.
This is incredibly important, because the heating impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is cumulative. Once released, they persist in the atmosphere for between decades (methane) and hundreds or thousands of years (most other types of GHG). All the carbon dioxide we’ve belched out since the start of the industrial revolution; all the HFCs and other chemical compounds we’ve dreamed up that we discovered, too late, had a heating effect on the atmosphere: they’re all still floating around, doing their thing.
Accordingly, the cumulative emissions budget over time is far more important – in terms of the objective of averting catastrophic climate change – than a target of X% off by a certain year. And while the Bill refers to an emissions budget for the period 2021 to 2030, neither that budget number, nor the means of calculating it, are documented in the legislation.
There’s not much else in the Bill other than a requirement for an annual “climate change statement” – little more than a record of achievement – to be compiled with advice from the Climate Change Authority, a supposedly independent and arms-length government agency. Unfortunately, when you look at the legislation that established the CCA in 2011, there is nothing to stop it being stacked with industry lobbyists. Climate groups have sought to ensure that the CCA is obliged to provide its advice based on the best climate science, and the draft legislation was amended to compel the government to release its annual report publicly within 15 days of receipt.
And that’s about it. Nothing on how emissions cuts are to be achieved (or how they would be funded). Nothing on how Australia should prepare for the worsening impacts of climate change. In our next post we’ll look at what a good suite of climate action legislation might include.
David McEwenShare Tweet