Our environment laws say nothing about the climate

Call for submissions to EPBC Review

ARRCC and others in the environment movement have been waiting for this moment! After many months of closed-door consultations, the public finally has a chance to comment on the Federal Government's 'Nature Positive Plan', ie, what is being proposed for Australia's revised Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

Submissions are due by 30 March 2024. Please make this a priority over writing a letter to Minister Plibersek. 

Your submission does not need to be long or complicated, and it does not need to cover all the issues in the EPBC legislation. If you have written a letter to the Environment Minister, the wording could be a sound basis for your submission.

In their advice on writing a submission to the Review process, Environmental Justice Australia says the best submissions are unique. There are three steps:

1. Say why you care.

2. Write about the changes you want to see.

3. Make the submission via website: https://consult.dcceew.gov.au/australias-new-nature-positive-laws (Page 2 of the survey is where you can upload your prepared submission.)

ARRCC's focus remains on the fact that the proposed Nature Positive Plan fails to include consideration of global climate impacts of new mining projects or project  expansions. The proposed Act does have a 'climate trigger' but it comes into play only when the greenhouse gas emissions from any proposed project might contribute significantly to our domestic total. Where a new project with significant emissions, such as a coal mine, is approved the Minister for the Environment  must refer it to the Minister for Climate Change who, in turn, may impose a range of obligations on that mine to reduce their pollution. These are obligations under the new Safeguard Mechanism.

Climate impacts also feature in the Nature Positive Plan, in that developers will be required to offer 'landscape scale assessments' which build in adaptation and resilience measures to address future local climate change impacts.

While welcome, it is essential that we also stop adding new emissions to the atmosphere via our exports, which are currently about double our domestic emissions. Australia has a clear moral responsibility here, even if Scope 3 emissions are officially counted by other nations under the Paris Accord.

The reality is that the Paris Accord is inadequate. It only puts restraints (albeit voluntary) on emissions from the burning of fossil fuels while the production of fossil fuels remains entirely unchecked. This lopsided approach has led to a robust international push from the Pacific and the environment movement for a global Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to complement the Paris Accord. 

Our main requests are that the EPBC Act should: 

  1. Put climate impacts at the heart of the Act by making climate a 'matter of national environmental significance' (MNES). At the moment, the nine matters of national environmental significance do not include protection of the environment from activities that will impact on the climate.
  2. Ensure that the full climate impacts of projects, which includes greenhouse gas emissions from the products burned overseas, are included as factors to be considered in the assessment of projects.
  3. The Minister for the Environment should have the power to reject mining projects because of their potential climate impacts.

The central concern of the EPBC Act is the conservation of species and ecological communities. It would be strategic to  note that the effect on the earth’s climate of coal and gas mined in Australia and burned overseas, will have an unacceptable impact on the viability of endangered species and ecological communities. They will be part of what causes irreversible damage to World Heritage-listed places like the Great Barrier Reef. They will cause irreversible damage to the ecological character of most of our wild places.

Other aspects of ARRCC's position on the EPBC can be found in our most recent letter to the Hon. Plibersek.


Read further if you prefer to write a letter to making a submission.

Call for letters to the Environment Minister

Can you write a letter to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek? Better yet, could you find a small group of other people of faith who might write letters with you?

So far 80 ARRCC supporters have written individualised letters asking her for one simple thing: to put protecting the climate at the heart of our main piece of environmental legislation. 

The amazing truth is that the single most pressing threat to our natural environment - climate change - is not included as a 'matter of national environmental significance' (MNES) in Australia’s main environmental law, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. 

Already Australia is the world’s third largest exporter of fossil fuels and the largest exporter of Liquified Natural Gas. While on the one hand, Federal Labor is doing well to quickly scale up the use of renewable energy, on the other they are pouring new fuel on the climate fire.

Right now, this crucial environmental legislation is being reviewed and quite possibly drafting process has begun. It is hoped that the drafting process will be finished so the draft legislation can be introduced to the Parliament by the 2024 winter break. 

Now is the best single chance to influence the reforms to this pivotal law. Let’s make sure the Environment Minister hears from people of faith everywhere.

What to include in your letter

ARRCC is reliably informed that an old-fashioned hand-written letter, sent through Australia Post, is given quite a bit more weight by MPs than they give an email. It shows the sender takes it more seriously. 

Please write to Minister Tanya Plibersek in your own words and identify yourself as a person of faith. The views of people in faith communities are seen slightly differently by politicians. 

We need as many letters as possible to reach the Minister by early December when she announces her proposed changes to the Act.

Our main ‘asks’ are that Minister Plibersek should:

  1. Put a pause on all approvals of new coal and gas projects until the review of the EPBC Act is completed as promised. 
  2. Put climate impacts at the heart of the Act by making addressing this issue one of its Objects.
  3. Ensure that the full climate impacts of projects are included as factors to be considered in the assessment of projects.
  4. Expedite the review and/or allow public scrutiny of details of its progress.

In the context of a summer of climate-fuelled storms, floods and fires, the main message for the Government needs to be to stop pouring fuel on the fire.

Here is the most recent ARRCC Committee letter to the Hon. Plibersek, after an exchange of letters with her. 

Please send letters to:

Minister Plibersek
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

You could also write to your own MP and ask them to advocate with Government Ministers that the impacts of projects on the climate should be a key factor determining approval or rejection.

There's also a general guide to writing to an MP which will also be helpful in writing to Minister Plibersek.


Let’s make this big

At the start of February 2024, 80 ARRCC supporters have written letters in response to this call. We are going to keep a running total and keep you updated until mid-2024. We’d really like a big response on this one. Let’s get letters to the Minister from all over the country. 

Would you mind letting us know via [email protected] if you have sent a letter, so we can keep a track of how many letters ARRCC supporters have sent? That way we can keep you and other people up-to-date with the number of letters being sent in.


Doing it with others

The best thing would be not only to write a letter yourself, but to get together with a few others from your place of worship and write one each. Why not ask a few people to stay around after worship? You could provide pens and paper and some of the main points from this web page to get people going.

If you do this, please send them as separate letters rather than in one envelope, as this gives a stronger impression. 


Why does this matter?

A staggering 45% of all new proposed coal projects in the world are in Australia.  Yet 95% of Australia’s coal must remain in the ground to even have a 50% chance of keeping to a 1.5C of warming. 

Australia’s exports of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) have risen dramatically in the last five years and, with our small population, Australia is now the third largest exporter of fossil fuels globally, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. 

The latest IEA report Executive Summary reiterates “No new long-lead time upstream oil and gas projects are needed in the NZE Scenario, neither are new coal mines, mine extensions or new unabated coal plants.” This is a rather dry way of saying that staying below 1.5 degrees of warming is incompatible with new coal, oil and gas projects. 


More background

The Climate Council is calling for a pause on coal and gas project approvals, mainly as a way to put pressure on the Government to speed up the process of reviewing the EPBC Act. A moratorium or a ban won't be seen as acceptable, but a "pause" might be. The Climate Council is advocating that the process be sped up, and that the time of publishing the proposed reforms be brought forward so they are open to public scrutiny.

The Climate Council advocates that holding global warming to 1.5 degrees C should be one of the Objects of the Act, that climate should be embedded in the Act, and that potential climate impacts of a project, wherever the coal or gas ends up being burnt - whether here in Australia or overseas -  should be at the heart of the approval process.

It is not transparent what changes to the Act are being considered. The indications are that the Government is not working on integrating climate into the revised EPBC Act.

The Minister’s proposed ‘Nature Positive Plan’ is publicly known but many questions remain unanswered: 

It’s best not to use the term, “climate trigger” because:

  • Labor sees it as a Greens proposal
  • “Climate Trigger” means different things to different groups.
  • At the moment, The Environment Minister interprets the “climate trigger” to mean that a project, once it’s approved, should be referred to Minister Bowen as a candidate for restrictions on their Scope 1 emissions

It is believed that Minister Plibersek's advisers are shielding her from the strength of people's concern about climate change. Now is an important time to be letting the Minister know your concern.

Please see the Climate Council's talking points for more information.