Victoria’s Climate Change Act
A reaction to the Climate Change Bill (2010).
This was published in the National Times, September 1, 2010.
Victoria takes leading steps on climate change
In the build up to the November state election, the key focus of the climate movement has been the closure of the ageing and dirty Hazelwood coal-fired power station. With the release of its White Paper on climate change, the Brumby government has now indicated it will come at least some way on this issue, by investigating the partial closure of the equivalent of a quarter of the plant.
The full closure of Hazelwood would be a profound act on at least two levels. It would be a powerful symbol that Victoria is now finally shifting from its historic reliance on coal, and would remove about 12 per cent of our greenhouse emissions.
But beyond individual actions to reduce emissions, we will require a strong legislative framework to guide the many actions needed to respond effectively to the threat of climate change.
The Brumby government’s Climate Change bill — to be debated in the Upper House this week — will allow us to start the journey towards a low carbon future. The key element of the bill is that fact that it will commit Victoria to a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse emissions below 2000 levels by 2020.
It is worth looking at the genesis of this bill to understand its significance. In 2006, the Victorian government committed to introducing a ”landmark” climate change bill. At this time, there was growing momentum around the world for governments to put in place legislation that would drive down the production of greenhouse gas emissions. A big part of the drive for these bills came from the glacial pace of the international climate change negotiations and a sense that something had to be done to avert dangerous climate change.
The UK took the lead, with a bill being proposed in 2005 eventually signed into effect in late 2008. A range of other jurisdictions also acted, including South Australia.
In most cases, new bills have built on earlier ones, with progressively deeper targets, especially the short term ones. For instance, the UK’s bill commits it to 34 per cent reductions against 1990 levels by 2020. The most recent legislation, the Climate Change Scotland (2009) Act commits Scotland to an ambitious 42 per cent reduction against 1990 levels by 2020. The intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change suggests targets of between 25 and 40 per cent for developed nations in this time frame.
Against these figures, Victoria’s 20 per cent against 2000 levels looks less impressive. Obviously, our emissions were far higher in 2000 than they were a decade before and hence it will be easier to cut emissions against these higher levels. But we should also note that, unlike in Europe, Australia does not have an emissions trading scheme or price on carbon. In the case of the Scottish bill a ”bidding war” between the parties pushed the target upwards. In contrast, here we have seen the collapse of federal government action on climate change, at least for the foreseeable future. And at the state level the Coalition has been missing in action on the issue.
In this light the Victorian target starts to look more ambitious.
In its final form, the bill is a far more impressive piece of legislation than early drafts. In addition to the targets, it will mean that new ”conventional” coal-fired power stations can no longer be built, greenhouse gases will be regulated, and a ”trigger” will be created for large emitters. The government will be required to take climate change into consideration in planning decisions in certain circumstances.
The bill will guide adaptation plans for the state, facilitate a massive roll-out of carbon sequestration (locking carbon into tree plantings) and require public reporting on the bill every two years, and a one-off review after five years. It intends to take the community with it as it develops solutions to climate change, and includes a substantial retrofit of housing stock to higher energy efficiency standards. The potential job yield from all these measures is substantial.
Of course, the devil is always in the detail, especially when it comes to election promises and complex legislation. The government has not yet spelt out how it will meet all of the reductions and even the partial phasing out of coal power is reliant on federal funds. There is a range of questions about how the carbon sequestration will work and whether it is a viable strategy for reducing emissions. There is the need for deeper targets and a baseline of 1990 in measuring these cuts.
As environmentalists, our job is to look at the coming climate crisis and demand action commensurate to the problem we all face. We are painfully aware of the need for deeper cuts in greenhouse pollution. We continue to call for the complete and rapid closure of the Hazelwood plant and for the government to rule out the proposed HRL coal-fired power station. And yet, at the same time, we need to acknowledge the leadership being shown by the Brumby government on this most pressing of issues.
Victoria is now well ahead of any other Australian state when it comes to climate change policy. As the preamble to the bill notes ”early action is necessary to build Victoria’s capacity to respond to the challenges of climate change” and will ”ease the task of long term transition to an environmentally sustainable economy”. This bill is a good start to the process.
Cam Walker is campaigns co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth.