Climate Policy In The Spotlight

While PlantingSeeds focuses on biodiversity issues, the issue of climate change has enormous implications for all species’ welfare and survival.

Of significance is the recent Australian deal to strengthen a key climate policy, the safeguard mechanism (SGM), by introducing a hard cap on industrial sector emissions.

With the Labor/Greens’ deal not implementing a touted ban on new coal and gas projects, various political commentators offer helpful information and commentary:

From The Sydney Morning Herald (March 29th 2023)

‘The SGM is the government’s policy to force down greenhouse gas emissions from Australian industry. Under the policy the nation’s biggest polluters are required to reduce their emissions by a collective 4.9 per cent each year to 2030.

‘Each of the 215 polluting facilities covered by the policy would be given their own reduction target, known as a baseline. Those that can’t meet that target will be required to pay for each tonne of pollution by which they overshoot. Those that beat their target can sell their excess credits. The price will be capped at $75 per tonne, increasing at the rate of inflation plus 2 per cent each year.

‘The energy analyst Tim Buckley calculates the cost of offsetting rather than reducing emissions to be $5 billion annually by 2030. “Industry can’t just afford a hit like that,” he says. Solutions once considered unviable are now immediately financially inevitable.

‘Under the changes to the SGM, the reductions goal has become a hard cap rather than a soft target. If you were among those who feared that industry was planning to pay for offsets rather than cut emissions, this is a significant improvement. To those who believed that the carrot and stick in the original policy were sufficient to drive down emissions, this will make less difference.

‘The Greens failed to extract from the government a commitment to ban the development of new oil and gas projects outright, but did succeed in having changes made that are likely to curtail some of the industry’s future plans. These include a formal “climate trigger” compelling the environment minister to consider the climate impacts of all new gas projects at the approval stage.

‘New gas projects for the LNG export market will be required to have net-zero carbon dioxide emissions from their first day of operation. No concessions will be made for those fields where the gas exists with a higher carbon dioxide content. Greens leader Adam Bandt argues this will make proposed projects such as the Barossa gasfield and coal mines that release high levels of methane unviable.’

From The Conversation (March 28th 2023) Kate Crowley

‘Labor did give ground in setting a hard cap on emissions which should – if it works – make many new fossil fuel projects unviable.  

‘This isn’t the end of the climate wars – but the politics are changing. Denial and inaction are over. Now we’re seeing a tussle between the urgency of the Greens, Teals who want to ban fossil fuels and the Labor government as it balances demands from industry, climate voters and the unions.

‘All the while, our carbon budget is shrinking and the time available to act on climate change is disappearing…  

‘The resulting negotiations have lasted months, and left many disillusioned about how ambitious Labor will really be on climate.

‘But we do have something. Yesterday, a deal was announced and Labor’s reformed plan passed the lower house en route to the Senate. The Liberal and National parties voted against the reforms, even though it is their own – indeed their only – climate policy…

‘Greens leader Adam Bandt says the cap will mean only half of the 116 proposed coal and gas projects can proceed. But this isn’t guaranteed. Some projects would not have been viable regardless. And laws can be readily changed.

‘It remains to be seen how the concessions won by the Greens will work in practice.’  

This ABC article also offers a good overview of the system and some of it’s history and the nuances of the process.