Climate Change Bill proposed by Independent MP Zali Stegall
The Hon. Zali Stegall, Independent Member for Warringah, introduced a private member’s bill to Parliament in November 2020 and called for a conscience vote.
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The Bill is designed to break the impasse in Australia over climate policy. It mirrors similar legislation in the UK and New Zealand by setting a target of net zero emissions by the 2050 and by creating a process for setting targets for every five-year period until that date. It would also re-establish the independent Climate Change Commission which was de-funded when the Abbott Government came to power.
Why ARRCC supports this Bill
ARRCC and many other environmental organisations support the Stegall bill despite some concerns that it is not strong enough to create the change needed to maintain a stable climate. It is important that the provisions are potentially acceptable to the Coalition who, at this point in time, will need to support whatever measures are adopted to address climate change. We hope that it will create some much-needed initial political consensus.
The bill provides flexibility so governments can set their own priorities to reduce emissions, while providing accountability and oversight through an effective independent body.
The proposed Bill requires the development and implementation of adaptation plans, based on annual Risk Assessments by the Climate Change Commission. These would take into account national and regional climates, water availability, vegetation cover and air quality, and possible changes to international climate and trade policies. It would identify risks across Australia’s economy, society and environment, to which Australia will need to respond.
The United Kingdom's Act, on which this has been based has been extremely effective in assisting the UK to decarbonise, put the climate debate behind them and allow them to focus on the opportunities afforded by an effective transition.
Overall, ARRCC supports this bill as a critical break in the stalemate on climate change policy in Australia. The bill functions as an important first step. ARRCC will be working with other environmental organisations to build on the good will we hope this bill will create, to ensure that legislation is enacted commensurate with the scale of the climate crisis.
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The bill requires targets to be set every five years. We are concerned that there are no specific targets for any of these five-year periods. This is the main challenge with the bill: it sets no specific targets for the first two five-year periods, and the best science available tells us that it is the next ten years that are central to us maintaining a stable climate. If the targets are too weak for the first few years, then our ability to address climate change is significantly hampered.
It is proposed that the specific emissions budgets are set by the Government of the day on the advice of the independent Climate Change Commission which takes into consideration the best available science. The Government would have to explain any deviations from that advice.
Why this is a first step
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of both coal (when both metallurgical and thermal coal are counted) and liquified natural gas. The bill does not contain any information on a process or targets for cutting down exports of coal or gas.
The reason given for this is that, under international agreements, carbon budgets only encompass domestic emissions. Where coal or gas is extracted in Australia but consumed overseas (known as ‘Scope 3 emissions’), these are counted solely against the targets of the countries where they are burned.
This is a serious limitation in the Climate Change Bill. ARRCC holds that this rule, created as part of the Paris Accord, does not mean that Australia has no ethical responsibility for the burning of coal overseas.
We are therefore pleased with the initial plan to add a clause to the Bills requiring the Climate Change Commission to model an estimate of our Scope 3 emissions for decision makers to take into account, and will be advocating for specific targets for reductions in coal and gas to be embedded in government policy.
There is a tension between this Climate Change Bill, which is deliberately constrained as it aims to break a political stalemate, and our aspirations as activists to see a robust response to the existential threat of climate change. It will be up to us to call for stronger action, with this Act as a starting point.
Thea Ormerod & Dr Peta Cox