What Could a Good Climate Action Bill Look Like?
Last week we talked about what is in the government’s Climate Change Bill. Which was to say, not much, really. In this post we look more broadly at what sort of climate legislation Australian Parents for Climate Action would like to see, based on what we proposed in our submission to the Senate Inquiry.
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There are a couple of different types of climate legislation. One is known as framework legislation, which establishes the rules around the implementation of broad policy statements. Another approach implements specific policies relating to emissions reduction or adaptation, by allocating funding via appropriations, and/or establishing market regulation (carrots and/or sticks) to drive desired outcomes.
The United States’ government’s brand new Inflation Reduction Act is an example of the latter. It includes hundreds of billions in funding for renewable energy, EVs and charging infrastructure, heat pumps in homes and a host of other very targeted initiatives. The legislation runs to 700 pages.
The Climate Change Bill 2022 is an example of framework legislation, but it’s particularly narrow compared with examples from countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Weighing in at about six pages of actual content, all it does is set a target for emissions reduction, and require the government to obtain non-binding advice from the quasi-independent Climate Change Authority (CCA) on progress against the target, and whether it should be strengthened.
In 2020, Independent MP Zali Steggall tabled a Private Members Bill, which not only set (stronger) targets, but also, like the international examples it was modelled on, required:
Independent, science-based and technical advice around the suite of energy, transport, industry, agriculture, economic and other policies necessary to achieve the emissions reduction target. The government would need to publish and reply, advising which recommendations or alternative policies it planned to adopt. Given how fast our understanding of, and the costs of emissions sources and reduction opportunities is evolving, it is essential that such advice is timely and impartial.
- The regular development and updating of national climate risk assessments and adaptation/resilience planning to ensure that Australia is better prepared for the inevitable and worsening impacts of climate change.
These are important additions that would considerably broaden the scope of the Bill and improve accountability.
The ALP's Bill requires an annual climate change statement. However, that statement does not specifically require the statement to advise whether Australia’s efforts are consistent with what the science tells us is necessary to avert a particular level of warming in accordance with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. In AP4CA’s submission, we recommended that this requirement be made explicit and that such advice is put in the context of expectations for key climate outcomes such as, but not limited to:
- The survival of the Great Barrier Reef;
- The viability of urban and agricultural fresh water supplies;
- Expected levels of agricultural production;
- Extreme weather damage and recovery costs;
- Property and infrastructure damage from coastal inundation due to sea level rise;
- Damage to fisheries due to warming ocean temperatures, increasing ocean acidification, deoxygenation and the loss of marine habitats such as coral reefs, sea weeds/grasses, mangroves, etc.;
- Insurability of climate-exposed property or the magnitude of potential premium increases;
- Valuation impacts to climate-exposed property; and
- Human health impacts from the foregoing, including physical and mental health.
Calling out these types of objectively bad outcomes would help more people realise the dangerous costs of climate inaction, which would make it easier to justify greater ambition.
...Backed With Specific Emissions Reduction Policies and Funding
The elephant in the room is that the Climate Bill is silent on the Australian government’s continued commitment to the expansion of coal and gas extraction. The not inconsiderable domestic emissions associated with new coal and gas export projects are included in the emissions reduction target, which might cause headaches for some projects.
For example, a typical LNG (liquified fossil methane) export project uses about 10% of the total gas extracted right here in Australia! They use gas as the main energy source during processing, transporting and liquifying the gas that is eventually exported. And that’s only part of the project’s domestic emissions.
However, the vast exported emissions are not counted, despite the fact that those emissions worsen climate change for all countries. In another post we’ll dive into this issue in more detail. But Greens leader Adam Bandt summed it up nicely when he likened ignoring scope 3 and allowing the industry to continue, as akin to trying to put out a fire in your house with a bucket while simultaneously pouring petrol on it.
We believe it is critical that the Australian Government quickly supplements the Climate Change Bill with additional legislation, amendments and regulations that:
- Implement the recommendations of the Samuels review regarding the currently erroneously-named Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Establish a hierarchy that prioritises genuine emissions reduction by major emitters over the purchase of offsets. Use of offsets should be reserved for genuinely “hard to abate” activities and certainly should not be available to fossil fuel producers.
- Reform the Australian Carbon Credit market, ensuring that credits meet stringent tests for additionality, permanence (minimum 100 years) and verifiability. Double counting must be eliminated.
In the absence of a carbon price and dividend scheme (generally thought to be the most efficient, effective and equitable method of emissions reduction), ensure the so-called safeguards mechanism is implemented across all major emitters and that existing loopholes are closed down. This would have the effect of ensuring that big emitters are actually doing their part.
Ensure all government departments, agencies and proposed policies expressly rule out projects or initiatives that increase Australia’s emissions, and/or that are inconsistent with the emissions reduction path set within the Climate Change Bill.
Unwind all subsidies, grants and other publicly-funded supports to the fossil fuel industry and other emissions intensive sectors such as beef, air travel, etc.; and, in the absence of the obvious – a universal carbon price – implement a windfall profits tax and/or impose a loss and damage tax on the industry.
- Treat the fossil fuel industry in the same way we treat the tobacco industry, including bans on advertising, sponsorship (with appropriate recompense to organisations that currently receive funding, to be funded via money saved from the reduction in subsidies or introduction of a super profits tax), and political donations.
Obviously that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Join us in the weeks to come as we unpack more of the types of climate policies we’d like to see at Federal, State and local government level. If you are interested in learning more about a particular aspect, or disagree with our position on anything, please let us know via comments when we post these posts on our socials.
David McEwen is a father of teenage boys who leads the all volunteer AP4CA Policy & Submissions team.Share Tweet