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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Guest Post: Labor’s scheme to cut industrial emissions is worryingly flexible


BHP steelworks at Port Kembla Phto: John Englart

Rebecca Pearse, Australian National University

The federal government today proposed new rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s polluting industrial sector. The rule changes apply to a measure known as the “safeguard mechanism”, and are supposed to stop Australia’s top 215 emitters, such as new coal, oil and gas projects, from emitting over certain thresholds, or “baselines”.

The safeguard mechanism was established by the Abbott Coalition government in 2016. It’s been widely criticised for lacking teeth – indeed, industrial emissions have actually increased since the mechanism began.

The safeguard mechanism was reviewed last year and Labor had promised a revamp. The fine detail of the changes is crucial, because it will determine how well Australia brings down its emissions on the path to net zero.

So would Labor’s proposed reforms, if implemented, be effective and equitable? Unfortunately, it appears no. They involve only very modest changes to a very flexible regime, and many issues plaguing the safeguard mechanism under the previous government continue.

Ozone action on track, helping avoid 0.5C of global warming by 2100 says UNEP

Ozone recovery is back on track says the latest UNEP assessment report on ozone depletion and recovery.

Rogue emissions from China of ozone-depleting chemicals had threatened to delay recovery by a decade. But the emissions were stopped, says the New York Times.

“That ozone recovery is on track according to the latest quadrennial report is fantastic news. The impact the Montreal Protocol has had on climate change mitigation cannot be overstressed. Over the last 35 years, the Protocol has become a true champion for the environment,” said Meg Seki, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Ozone Secretariat. “The assessments and reviews undertaken by the Scientific Assessment Panel remain a vital component of the work of the Protocol that helps inform policy and decision makers.”

Monday, January 9, 2023

Chubb Review into the integrity of Australian Carbon Offsets sends mixed messages

Chubb review into the integrity of carbon offsets ignores the elephant in the room argues the Climate Council: too many major emitters are buying ACCUs so that they can continue to pollute as usual.

“The Chubb Review has provided some positive recommendations for improving the integrity and transparency of carbon credits. But the most important question is: where and how will carbon credits be used?" says Climate Council Head of Advocacy Dr Jennifer Rayner

“Big polluters shouldn’t be able to keep polluting as usual by offsetting much or all of their emissions under the Safeguard Mechanism."

The Chubb Review found the carbon offsets scheme was "fundamentally" well designed when it was first introduced, but called for more data transparency which would improve integrity, recommending that "the default should be that data be made public, including carbon estimation areas" and the government should consider a national platform to share this information.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

2002 Cabinet Documents: Climate change impacts acknowledged by Foreign Minister Downer and Environment Minister Kemp as Australia refuses to sign Kyoto Protocol

Howard Cabinet in 2002

Cabinet documents released by the National Archives from 2002 shine a light on the conservative Liberal-National Party Coalition Government of Prime Minister John Howard in refusing to sign on to the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol, and also the decision not to proceed with a High Speed East Coast Train network linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.

The Cabinet documents highlight that Cabinet Ministers Alexander Downer (Foreign Minister) and David Kemp (Environment and Heritage Minister) acknowledged that climate impacts would be felt by Australians, no matter what measures were taken. Rather than planning for the future as suggested by a Treasury Department submission, little action was taken regarding expansion of the fossil fuel sector, or long term inter-capital transport planning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Montreal Moment for Biodiversity: Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted

Final COP15 Decision Plenary at Montreal

The  Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, due to the pandemic, has been four years in the making, was finally adopted in Montreal in the early hours of the morning on the 19th December 2022. 

This is the 'Montreal moment' for the Biodiversity crisis and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the equivalent of the 'Paris moment' for the UNFCCC and the climate crisis. 

Like the Paris Agreement, it is far from being perfect. The consensus process means that much compromise is entailed in reaching a global agreement. 

It sets mission goals for 2030 and 2050 to arrest loss of ecosystems and conserve species numbers. It includes an ambitious 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent of ocean for conservation by 2030. This is a step in the right direction, although recent science says that between 44 per cent (1) or 50 percent of land (2) may be necessary to protect to meet the mission statement.

The Package also includes reform of $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and halt pollution that damages ecosystems by the end of the decade. Countries from the global north would contribute $30bn a year for conservation by the end of the decade. 

Strong language for the protection of indigenous rights and territories emphasised throughout the 23 specific targets and four goals that make up the main agreement, known as the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. 

While a separate Biodiversity Fund was not agreed, there was a compromise plan to create a new financing mechanism for biodiversity housed under the UN’s Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Monday, December 19, 2022

Australia and the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15

Tanya Plibersek in Plenary Photo: Nat Pelle (ACF)

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15 / CP-MOP10 / NP-MOP4) is meeting in Montreal, Canada, 7-19 December 2022. This is part of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Biodiversity conference is important as countries will set the 2030 targets. Parties will seek to finalise the 10-year post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF). (read my blog on Global framework on Biodiversity - Australian statement on the Convention on Biodiversity 2030 target)

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has confirmed she will attend COP15 in Montreal.

| COP15 Day Summaries | Australian Pledges | Tracking Minister Plibersek | Resources |

Breaking: Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted, although not without some controversy over objection of DRC. See The Montreal Moment for Biodiversity: Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Capacity Investment Scheme for Energy Storage agreed by Federal and State Energy ministers

State Energy Ministers met with Chris Bowen, Federal Minister for Climate and Energy, and agreed on a new scheme that would boost energy storage, both batteries and long duration storage.

The Labor Government has set a renewables target of 82 per cent by 2030. Along with more solar and wind  energy storage is needed to make dispatchable power for the grid.

“The Capacity Investment Scheme is essentially a ‘keep the lights on’ mechanism,” Bowen said.

“Australian households, industry and the energy market are all moving with their feet towards more affordable renewable energy. The Capacity Investment Scheme will ensure the reliable power we need is delivered as this transition continues.”

Minister outlines major update to Australian environmental laws and the EPBC Act by end of 2023

Photo: Tanya Plibesek speech
Australia: Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announces formal response to the Independent Review of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
"At the heart of our reform is a conceptual shift. When we reform our environmental laws, we will take them from being nature negative, where we just manage an overall decline in our environment, to nature positive, where we protect our land and leave it in a better state than we found it." said Plibersek at a Queensland Conservation Council event. 

Major Reforms include: 
  • introduction of National Environmental Standards, 
  • new system of regional planning, 
  • overhaul of environmental offsets, and 
  • establishment of an independent Environment Protection Agency. 

New National Environmental Standards will apply to Regional Forestry Agreements, which were previously exempt from EPBC Act regulation. This means threatened species and ecosystems will come back under Federal government regulation.

Climate will be a consideration, but no climate trigger for the amended legislation: 
"proponents of large projects be required to publish their lifetime, domestic carbon dioxide emissions. Proponents will also be required to disclose what they will do to manage or offset their emissions, in line with Australia’s climate targets."

"Time to forge a Peace Pact with Nature" says UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at COP15 Biodiversity conference:

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, again stepped up the rhetoric at the openning plenary of the Biodiversity conference in Montreal, calling for a "Peace Pact with Nature".

He articulated the rapid species and ecosystems decline and the costs to humanity of cost measured in lost jobs, hunger, diseases and deaths, and higher prices for water, food and energy.

He focussed on three concrete actions:

  • Governments should develop bold national action plans across all ministries, from finance and food, to energy and infrastructure. This includes "plans that re-purpose subsidies and tax breaks away from nature-destroying activities towards green solutions like renewable energy, plastic reduction, nature-friendly food production and sustainable resource extraction. Plans that recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who have always been the most effective guardians of biodiversity. And National Biodiversity Finance Plans to help close the finance gap."
  • The private sector and business must recognize that profit and protection must go hand-in-hand. That means the food and agricultural industry moving towards sustainable production and natural means of pollination, pest control and fertilization. It means the timber, chemicals, building and construction industries taking their impacts on nature into account in their business plans. It means the biotech, pharmaceutical and other industries that use biodiversity sharing the benefits fairly and equitably. It means tough regulatory frameworks and disclosure measures that end greenwashing, and hold the private sector accountable for their actions across every link of their supply chains. And it means challenging the relentless concentration of wealth and power by few that is working against nature and the real interests of the majority.  
  • Dveloped countries must provide bold financial support for the countries of the Global South as custodians of our world’s natural wealth.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Australia and Negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty and reduce plastic pollution in the marine environment

Photo by IISD/ENB

The final resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly 21 February – 4 March 2022 was to develop a Global Plastics Treaty and to set up an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

That Negotiating Committee has now convened 28 November - 2 December 2022 at Punta del Este, Uruguay. Negotiations on the Treaty is expected to take until 2024. Australia is a member of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution and is attending and have made a submission regarding processes and a statement to the Opening Plenary