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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Senate Estimates: As climate change accelerates in 2023, Climate Change Department executive says no change in emission reduction plans

On Monday, 23 October 2023 during Senate estimates for Environment and Communications Legislative Committee, a question was put to the Department of Climate Change Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) whether plans had changed due to the accelerated global warming seen during 2023. 

The executive replied "It does not change our approach to emissions reduction because, in essence, we are already pushing our emission reductions to go as fast as is possible for Australia."

The evidence is clear: Global temperatures throughout mid-2023 have shattered records (Carbon Brief), September smashes monthly temperature record by record margin (WMO) See also: Climate Breakdown has begun warns UN Secretary General as world experiences hottest June-August period on record.

==Transcript ==

CHAIR: Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: As we were discussing before, the projections indicate that this year is now a 99 per cent chance of being the hottest year on record, whereas a year or so ago it was thought that this year wasn't going to be so problematic. Given those really scary meteorological developments, and given the fact that it looks like we've hit the 1½ degree threshold far earlier than we were warned, is the department re-evaluating what that means for Australia and for policy development?

Ms Evans: There are two parts to that response. On the emissions reduction side of things, as Senator McAllister already explained, the targets for 2030 are in legislation and they are not changing. We will, as part of all of the work that we are doing on the sectoral plans and the net zero plans, look at what the next target should be for Australia—and I should also say that the 2030 target is a floor, not a ceiling, so we'll still try to do even better than that. It does not change our approach to emissions reduction because, in essence, we are already pushing our emission reductions to go as fast as is possible for Australia. But, on the adaptation and climate risk side of things, we have embarked on the first detailed National Climate Risk Assessment for Australia, and some of these issues around the timing of when some of the higher temperatures might occur may well feature in that analysis.

Ms Geiger: As Ms Evans said, we are undertaking for the first time a National Climate Risk Assessment, which is looking at the key risks that Australia will face, which will then feed into a national adaptation plan. We are consulting quite widely because part of the purpose of doing this risk assessment is to develop a shared understanding of what the risks are across the country and across different sectors like health, defence, agriculture, the economy and so on.

Senator WATERS: Could you provide me on notice a little bit more detail about some time lines associated with the project that you've got underway? I am interested particularly, given these new figures, in whether the department is looking at any new initiatives to cut methane, particularly from the coal and gas sector given its short-term potentials—very troubling.

Ms Evans: Australia's greenhouse gas emission reductions targets are all gases, so that includes methane, and some of the more significant measures that have been brought in since the government was elected in 2022 include the safeguard mechanism, for example, which is already providing regulated control over methane emissions from the most significant emitters in the economy. And we've got a number of programs looking at what you can do in the other sectors of the economy, particularly in agriculture, which is another big source of methane for Australia. You would have come across some of the investments that are happening, such as the Asparagopsis technology and so on, which help to reduce methane and things like that. There's a program—I might let Ms Rowley elaborate further.

Senator WATERS: Please don't because I'm short on time and I've actually been to that lab. I'm across that and I think it's great.

Ms Evans: It's an existing program. There aren't additional methane things coming in as a result of those climate figures.

Senator WATERS: Why isn't there additional reconsideration, given this new information about how much of a climate brink we are on? Why are you not reconsidering coal and gas policy, particularly about methane?

Ms Evans: Because the programs are already focused on reducing those. So it's already in train.

Senator WATERS: Minister, do you want to add anything to that? Are these new figures about how close we actually are to a climate tipping point not giving the government pause to rethink the strength of its policies?

Senator McAllister: Senator Waters, you are right that the advice that we are receiving from the scientific community indicates that this is a very important decade, and it is a period in which the world needs to work together to reduce our emissions. A feature of our international engagement is working as closely as we can with other global partners to build confidence in the possibility of concerted, coordinated action across the globe to reduce emissions. Our decision to—as you know—significantly increase our 2030 targets, commit to 2050 in legislation and re-engage constructively in the international discussions is targeted towards building collective global confidence that we can do this. We will be, of course, participating in the Conference of the Parties at the end of the year. At that time there will be a global stocktake released, which provides an assessment of the international community about how we're going. Our focus is on delivering the commitments that we have made and working in the context of the international community to support ambitious global action.

Senator WATERS: Is this new data, showing that we are in fact already exceeding 1½ degrees, giving the government pause to think about not approving new coal and gas projects? I note that there have been five approved under your government so far.

Senator McAllister: Senator Waters, we have talked about this often in this committee. The government's principal mechanisms for reducing emissions from these big facilities lie in the safeguard mechanism. I understand that your party's preference is for a different approach, which is to use a different act for that purpose, but we've been through a legislative process, and we were grateful for the Greens' engagement in discussions about that legislation. The safeguard mechanism is the means by which we seek to limit emissions from Australia's largest facilities, and that includes coal and gas production.


Carbon Brief, 23 October 2023, Global temperatures throughout mid-2023 have shatter records 

WMO, 17 October 2023, September smashes monthly temperature record by record margin,

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