Questions and Answers on our Climate Change Bill

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Why do we need the Climate Change Act?

The recent bushfires and the drought have shown that climate change is an immediate challenge to Australia. Many Australians feel that their way of life and future is now under threat. We urgently need plans to protect our communities and ensure our prosperity. The provisions within the Climate Change Act ensure there are equitable, transparent and science-based plans to address the impacts of climate change, prevent worsening consequences and take advantage of economic opportunities.

How will it work?

The proposed Climate Act will mandate:

  1. A National Climate Risk Assessment
  2. A National Adaptation Program
  3. A Net-zero target by 2050 and;
  4. Establish an independent Climate Change Commission

What is framework legislation?

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.

What will the Climate Change Act do?

The Climate Change Act will:

  • Shore up Australia’s commitment to long-term climate action and reset the policy debate in Australia
  • Make an immediate positive contribution to the world’s action on climate change and bolster our standing internationally
  • Put Australia on a course towards a long-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Ensure action on climate change is equitable, transparent and leads to the best outcomes for all stakeholders
  • Help protect Australians by ensuring there are plans to assess risks to all sectors, adapt to climate impacts and;
  • Position Australia to take advantage of the opportunities that will come from climate action

Why a net-zero by 2050 target?

  • Net-zero by 2050 is a science-based target consistent with the advice of climate science academia and the IPCC literature more broadly
  • It is consistent with targets set in other developed countries around the world
  • It would bring the Commonwealth into alignment with the Australian States and Territories the majority of which have net-zero targets in policy or legislation
  • Built into the legislation are 5-yearly reviews which are consistent with the ‘pledge and review periods’ of the Paris Agreement and;
  • The targets can be changed if there are significant developments in the science, international agreements and/or technology

Who will introduce it into parliament?

Zali Steggall, the Independent MP for Warringah in NSW will introduce the Bill. The United Kingdom Climate Change Act (2008) was also first introduced by a private member.

What’s the difference between a bill and an Act?

A bill is a formal document prepared in the form of a draft Act. A bill becomes an Act—a law—only after it has been passed in identical form by both Houses of the Parliament and assented to by the Governor-General.

Who will vote for it?

As a non-partisan Bill, the aim is that all MPs will be able to make a Conscience Vote, as they did for Marriage Equality.

What is a conscience vote?

Most of the time, members of parliament vote with their party on legislation. A conscience vote is when members of parliament vote according to their values, principles and desires of their constituency.

Isn’t this just more government red tape and bureaucracy?

Australians expect the government to step up on climate change and this includes with legislation, regulation and policy. This Bill provides a proven flexible framework enacted in legislation to guide a transition to a zero-carbon economy and adapt to climate impacts already locked in.

Economically, it will position us to take advantage of the boom in low emissions technology, provide the business sector with certainty that we are on the right track, as well as the option to pursue new opportunities.

But there are no actual policies in here? Why don’t you put in a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme?

Governments are elected on the priorities they bring to the electorate and this bill respects that. The Climate Change Act key strength is its flexibility. It allows the government of the day to come up with policies depending on their priorities within a long-term bi-partisan goal. Importantly, there will be close oversight by an independent expert body scrutinising whether those policies are working towards these goals or not, which has been missing in the past.

Why now?

The timing is right for the Climate Change Act. Bushfires and droughts have galvanised and refocused the community on the need for a long-term plan to address the impacts of climate change.  

What about jobs and the economy?

During the time the United Kingdom Climate Change Act (2008) has been in place, the UK’s GDP has grown by 67%, while emissions have fallen by 42%. There are now more than 390,000 jobs[1] in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains, employing people across the UK. The UK’s low-carbon and renewable-energy economy was worth £43bn in 2016.[2]

The UK has recognised that there is a serious opportunity in new industries like renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture and green finance and are planning to fully capitalise on these areas in the coming decades. And they have shown we can have both economic growth and still be able to protect our way of life. (See figure below).

Natural disasters like bushfires, droughts and floods are showing that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action. The recent bushfires are projected to have cost the Australian economy up to $100 billion dollars. These costs will increase as warming worsens. The Climate Change Act aims to protect our economy against these impacts to ensure our prosperity into the future.

Will putting a plan in place for net-zero emissions by 2050 limit economic growth?

The CSIRO in their ‘outlook vision’ has estimated that limiting emissions to net zero by 2050 amongst other factors could result in 2.75-2.8% GDP growth annually.[i] As opposed to 2.1% under less ambitious scenarios.

The Climate Change Act will mandate that there are plans to get to net zero by 2050.

Why are we aiming to get to net-zero by 2050 as Australia is only responsible for 1.3% of global emissions?

Australia is the world’s 18th largest emitter out of 210 countries. Added to that, we are only 0.3% of the world’s population. [i] We are already not pulling our weight. Moreover, 201 countries emit less than 2%. If we all took that attitude, we would fail to limit warming to a safe level. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia is also warming faster than the global average[ii] and therefore especially vulnerable to climate change. It is simply in our national interest to lead.

Australia does not need the Bill as the Climate Change Authority is already advising the government on targets that put Australia on a path to net-zero emissions?

The current Climate Change Authority only reviews the functioning of certain legislation and is tasked to review policy and pathway to lower emissions only by referral from the Minister. This means its function are limited and historically it has not been utilised effectively.

The new Climate Change Commission will review policy and report publicly on progress yearly without referral by the Minister.

Will having a CCB limit the government’s policy making ability?

The Bill does not limit policy making and leaves policy making in the hands of our elected Government.

Is this bill supported by the constitution?

This bill relies on the ‘external affairs’ power in s 51(xxix) of the constitution which allow laws to enact obligations under international treaties. The Climate Change Act will go to the heart of Australia’s obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and other international agreements.

This is written explicitly at Paragraph 3 (1) (g) in the Objects of the Bill.