February 28, 2024

A Senate committee has recommended the parliament vote down a bill that would insert a climate trigger into Australia’s national environmental laws.

The bill, introduced by the Greens, would for the first time require the environment minister to consider the climate impact of a major development during the assessment process under Australia’s environmental laws.

It proposes a ban on developments that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and a requirement for ministerial approval for any projects that would emit between 25,000 and 100,000 tonnes of C02 annually.

“Labor face a huge test this year – will they fix our broken environment law to stop new coal, gas and native forest logging projects or not?” the Greens environment spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“In 2024, it is ludicrous that the environment minister can give environmental approval to projects that wreck our climate and destroy our forests.”

But government and coalition members of an upper house committee considering the bill have recommended it be rejected.

This was despite recognising “the significant and profound impact of climate change on the environment, including past and future emissions of greenhouse gases” and “the need for significant reductions of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions”.

“While the committee commends the objectives and intention of the bill, the committee notes a number of significant recent developments since this bill was introduced,” the report states.

It said this included last year’s passage of reforms to the safeguard mechanism, which would “result in emissions reduction from both existing and new industrial facilities”. The report said the bill, by contrast, would only deal with emissions from new facilities and risked duplicating work already being done under the safeguard mechanism.

The committee also said planned reform this year of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would ensure that the projected emissions from proposed developments were “transparent prior to their environmental assessment”.

In additional comments, Coalition members of the committee said they believed a climate trigger “would actually deliver the reverse outcome – that is, it would significantly complicate (and compromise) the task of emissions reduction in Australia”.

In a dissenting report, the Greens said it was critical the parliament pass the bill to close a “glaring loophole” in Australia’s laws. They wrote it was disappointing to see the majority report rule out supporting a climate trigger, a position that ignored the “deep and inherent link between our climate and the environment”.

“The safeguard mechanism is but one measure required to address the threats of climate change on Australia’s communities, environment, economies. The safeguard mechanism does not consider the impact of fossil fuels and global warming on our natural environment”.

The environment minister Tanya Plibersek said the government had already made changes to strengthen Australia’s climate laws.

“Our strong new climate laws, developed with the Greens and independents, allow the minister for climate change and energy to stop coal and gas projects adding to Australia’s emissions,” she said.

The government will formally respond to the senate committee report.

A climate trigger in Australia’s national laws has long been called for by some environment groups as part of an overhaul of Australia’s failing system of environmental protections.

New polling commissioned commissioned by the Climate Council found there was strong support for climate change to be factored into Australia’s nature laws.

The survey of 1,201 people found 73% agreed that Australia’s national environmental laws should be designed to protect the environment from the impacts of climate change. Support among Labor voters was 83%.

“Australians get it, our national environment law should protect our precious natural places from climate change, as one of the biggest threats they face,” the council’s chief executive Amanda McKenzie said.

“We need a national environment law that can stop dangerous, polluting projects and say yes to important renewable and clean industry projects that are done right.”

Legislation for new national environmental laws is due to be introduced to the parliament this year.

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