For the past five years Climate Tasmania has been fostering the need for comprehensive new climate legislation for Tasmania, to replace the minimalist 2008 Tasmanian Act that now serves little purpose.
To that end we have looked with interest at the impending national Climate Act proposed by independent Zali Steggall.
Below is our submission to the House Standing Committee on Environment and Energy on the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 and associated legislation.]
SUBMISSION No 1954
[Dated 4 Dec 2020]
Tasmanian Climate Change Legislation
Climate Tasmania has taken a very active interest in Tasmania’s Climate Change (State Action) Act, 2008, which was reviewed in 2016 and is about to be reviewed again.
Our legislation project work has included our developing a set of detailed drafting instructions for a detailed, comprehensive and ambitious state Act. We see distinct and complementary roles for climate change legislation between the Commonwealth and State jurisdictions:
- Notwithstanding established areas of Federal/State co-operative arrangements for national uniformity, the States hold much of the legal power over energy systems, road and rail transport, building energy efficiency standards, planning, infrastructure design standards, and so on – areas relevant to both mitigation and adaptation measures.
- However, it is the Commonwealth which is responsible for Australia’s international obligations (such as under the Paris Agreement) and holds potentially nation-wide legislative and taxation powers.
- The Commonwealth currently sets emissions measurement and reporting standards for the whole country, which is completely appropriate.
Accordingly, our position is that both State and Federal legislation is required to properly address the climate emergency we are facing, with State legislation containing local “nuts and bolts” actions specific to local situations and needs, and Federal legislation dealing with our international commitments and providing an overall framework for action at all levels.
We strongly support the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 currently before the Committee as an essential step towards the Commonwealth’s taking an active role in responding to the climate emergency.
We believe the Bill or legislation like it will signal to all Australians, governments, and markets, a commitment to science-based, independent advice and a clearer pathway for emissions reductions and adaptation preparedness.
We also have some suggestions that we believe could strengthen the Bill.
This section of our submission discusses aspects of the Bill that we particularly applaud. They are:
- Making science central.
Australia’s success in managing the Covid-19 pandemic to date was built on ensuring that expert scientific advice was available to Australian governments and that proper consideration was given to that advice. Not only was science central to our pandemic response, it was seen to be central. The same cannot be said about the current Federal Government’s climate change response to date, and this Bill will help correct that.
The Bill’s requirements for all of the Commission’s reports and advice to be publicly available and for the Government’s responses to be tabled in Parliament is essential. The climate emergency has been created by our use of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. While there are important differences amongst the larger fossil fuel companies, many of them are doing their best to stall the transition away from the use of their products. Complete transparency is essential In this environment: the Australian public need to have confidence that policy in this area is not being driven by special interests.
- The guiding principles: risk and integrated decision-making, including the precautionary principle.
The Bill’s guiding principles are important. A degree of uncertainty is inevitable when dealing with an extremely complex system like the Earth’s climate system. In the past, interests wishing to delay action on climate change have sought to use uncertainty as an argument for delay. However, uncertainty can exist at both ends of a probability distribution: there can be future surprises at the high impact end of the range of outcomes just as well as at the low impact end. The Bill’s requirement to be guided by the precautionary principle will help guide policy in an appropriate way and help avoid the most severe likely outcomes or losses.
- Greater involvement by Parliament.
The Bill provides for much needed enhanced parliamentary scrutiny and a role for the Parliament in the critical appointments to the new Commission.
The above comments should not be construed to suggest that other parts of the Bill are not desirable. We would be very pleased to see the Federal Parliament enact the Bill in its current form; indeed we urge members of the House and Senate to do so.
However, improvements are always possible, and those we would like to see are:
1. Risk assessments.
Clause 18 details the factors the Commission must take into account when preparing their climate risk assessments.
We think that two other areas of risk need to be included in cl 18. They are:
- Robustness and resilience of carbon sinks.
The Bill enshrines a net-zero emissions target. Such a target has two components: the actual emissions into the atmosphere, and the sequestration of carbon, whether into the biosphere or geologically.
The physics of global heating does not care about where greenhouse gases came from, just about their concentrations in the atmosphere. Accordingly, if sequestration is being relied upon to achieve an emissions target, then there needs to be a high standard of objective evidentiary support for a conclusion that the carbon so sequestered will not re-enter the atmosphere under any plausible scenario over a long timeframe.
The risk of such re- emission of sequestered carbon is thus a key issue in the effectiveness of Australia’s climate risk mitigation actions, and must be included in the formal risk assessments undertaken by the Commission.
- Transition risks.
The energy transition – the phasing out of our use of coal, oil and gas – is central to an effective response to the climate emergency.
This transition will have risks, both physical and financial, and both types of risks must be included in the formal risk assessments undertaken by the Commission. The physical risks relate to the availability of supply of the fuels, particularly oil, on which Australia is currently highly dependent.
It will be important to understand the implications of the transition away from fossil fuels in order to plan how to avoid potential supply disruptions. The financial risks are primarily of stranded assets; both on the supply and demand side of fossil fuel use. A recent Carbon Tracker report concluded that the potential monetary value of stranded fossil fuel physical infrastructure assets world-wide was $US10 trillion on the supply side and $US22 trillion on the demand side.
Almost every adult Australian owns some of the potentially stranded demand side fossil fuel assets in their cars, gas appliances, and other equipment.
2. Interaction with State policies and programs.
The Bill could do more to assist State policies and programs. As stated earlier in this submission, Climate Tasmania sees both levels of government as having vital and complementary roles with regard to climate change. Two areas where the Bill could provide further assistance to the States could be by:
- providing a forum where State expert, advisory or policy bodies could share experiences and results; and
- Including a review of particularly successful or innovative State approaches in its periodic progress reports in clause 29(1).
This is urgent and much needed legislation which is an essential first step towards restoring Commonwealth leadership on climate change. The swift passage and speedy, thorough implementation of this legislation will also help Australia restore its reputation on climate change with its allies and trading partners.
About Climate Tasmania
Climate Tasmania is a group of concerned professionals who have a diverse range of expertise, spanning scientific, legal, economic, health, energy, social and policy aspects of climate change.
Our aim is “To provide timely, independent and authoritative advice to Tasmanian business, government and community leaders on climate change and appropriate policy responses.” In pursuit of this aim we:
- inform and engage the Tasmanian community on climate issues;
- identify and promote model policies and actions for Tasmania;
- influence and engage decision makers on climate trends and policy options; and
- monitor and report on Tasmania’s progress in addressing climate change.
Details of the members of the Climate Tasmania board and expert advisers are available at this link.