Why Australia needs the Climate Change Bill

In August 2021 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a damning report indicating global warming is going to exceed 1.5°C in the 2030s if drastic intervention is not taken immediately. 

In October 2021, ahead of COP26, the UN environment programme (UNep) released their annual Emissions Gap Report that analyses the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) or carbon cutting plans submitted by 120 countries to the UN as part of the Paris Agreement. The report finds that when added together, the current pledges would see the world warm by 2.7°C this century

To keep 1.5°C alive would require 55% cuts by 2030.

At present, the world has warmed approximately 1.1°C since pre-industrialisation. And you may have noticed that weather events have become more extreme and unpredictable – who could ever forget the Black Summer bushfires? 

If warming exceeds 1.5°C to as much as 2.7°C this century it would be a climate catastrophe. Picture droughts, fire, floods, and cyclones with alarming regularity. Catastrophic loss of biodiversity. Famine and displacement. And unbearable pressure on Governments, economies, and citizens of every nation.  

Australia's political posturing

As part of the Paris Agreement, Australia pledged to cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Given the science, this is a drastically insufficient target. Ahead of COP26, the Liberal Government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have come under immense pressure to make a Net Zero 2050 commitment. A day in advance of departing for COP26, Morrisson announced the Government’s net zero 2050 plan which has been met with considerable derision. 

Katherine Murphy, The Guardian’s Chief Political Reporter, wrote: 

The concept the prime minister unfurled in the Blue Room at Parliament House on Tuesday was a whole-of-economy transition achieved by technology magic (with a safety valve of carbon offsets in the event that tech is not quite as magical as hoped).

Australia’s net zero strategy will be delivered by … wait for it … existing policy. 

And further, regarding the timing of the plan: 

Morrison suggests that we don’t have to worry, or hurry, (the technical parlance for don’t worry, be happy is “emissions reductions won’t be linear”) because nobody knew about the iPhone before it turned up in JB Hi-Fi. But now we’ve all got iPhones, and gadgets are much cheaper than they were five years ago, and everyone likes cheap stuff, so we can hang tight for the new cheap stuff because it always arrives. 

As comforting as this homily about entrepreneurship is, stuff would arrive a whole lot quicker if Australia had not only emissions reductions targets, but serious policy  mechanisms driving a transition. 

On balance, the net zero 2050 plan sticks to the status quo and is a hollow agreement in order to save face under the international spotlight of COP26. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg spelled it out in a speech to business leaders in September: “Australia has a lot at stake. We cannot run the risk that markets falsely assume we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world." 

For those focused on the fiscal, the climate crisis presents considerable economic opportunities as the world endeavours to phase out carbon emissions. Setting more ambitious targets will speed up innovation and unlock the global capital pool of $1.7 trillion per annum (and growing!) of investment in green technologies. 

In many ways this is like the industrial revolution of our era and failure to set the right framework means Australia risks being left behind.

What is the climate change bill?

Independent MP Zali Steggall's is the member for Warringah. She famously toppled Tony Abbott in the 2019 Federal election due, in large part, to her strong climate change agenda. 

Once elected, she wasted no time in developing the Climate Change Bill. It is a framework legislation, meaning the emission reduction targets are enshrined as law, but the Government of the day can decide how to achieve those targets. The Bill also mandates an Independent Climate Change Commission, which will keep Government in check. 

Zali Steggall’s explains it best: 

Framework legislation is tried and proven legislation that has worked in overseas  jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, France and Ireland. It has reduced emissions,  helped those countries adapt to climate impacts, and advanced the climate change  debate by taking the politics out of it. It works by setting a long-term pathway to  net-zero emissions and helps guide decision-making to meet that target. It does this  by requiring interim targets or emissions budgets which set a cap on economy-wide  emissions. 

By setting statutory targets, rather than just policy-based targets, it signals a greater level of commitment to emission reduction. Setting targets in legislation will also  provide parliamentary scrutiny. 

Framework legislation secures long-term policy and planning and ensures climate change action with changes of government. It does this by mandating the  Government of the day develop and implement plans to meet those budgets and  adapt to warming, which ensures that plans are not shelved and forgotten. All plans  are made with overarching principles like intergenerational equity, transparency,  fiscal responsibility and the best available science to ensure these plans are fair, equitable and consistent with best practice. 

zalisteggall.com.au

On Monday, 18 October, Steggall’s reintroduced the Climate Change Bill to parliament. Included is a new target of 60 per cent emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. 

“There are moments in history when leaders have the opportunity to show what they are made of, and this is one of them,” said Steggall’s in her speech. “Decarbonising 30 years into the future is not enough anymore. We need to lock in ambitious targets and a framework to get to net zero into law. We can accelerate the transformation of the economy, and we can all benefit from the new opportunities these technologies will bring.” 

As it has been introduced by an Independent, the Climate Change Bill is non-partisan, meaning MPs will be able to make a conscience vote, as they did for marriage equality. This would, in effect, stop Politicians voting along party lines and therefore shifts Climate Change from being a political issue, to a moral one. 

On Wednesday, 27 October, Steggall’s moved to have the Climate Change Bill debated in parliament immediately which was (unsurprisingly) blocked by the Government. 

What now?

Despite the valiant efforts of Koskela and over 20 purpose-driven businesses like Patagonia, KeepCup and Australian Ethical Investment, politicians have not taken up our call to #passthebucknotthebill.

Like the same-sex marriage bill, the Climate Change Bill needs enough public outrage that Politicians are compelled to act according to their conscience and not along party lines.  

If elected members understand that climate change is an important issue to their constituents, so much so that it could cost them their seat, they will look at Steggall’s Climate Change Bill – modelled on the UK’s Climate Change Act – as viable legislation. 

The groundswell is already underway. A Federal election will take place next year and Climate 200 has sprung up. The organisation has already raised more than $2m to support independent candidates focused on climate change (like Zali Steggall) to challenge Liberal incumbents in urban heartland seats (like Josh Frydenberg). 

A voter in Josh Frydenberg's Kooyoung electorate.

A voter in Josh Frydenberg's Kooyoung electorate.

Supporters for an independent candidate in the Mackellar electorate.

 

At the election, vote according to Climate Change policy. We need to send a strong message to our politicians that we need the Climate Act Now! 

Show your support at join.climateactnow.com.au.

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