Zali Steggall speaks on this year's Climate Change Annual Statement

8 February 2023

Well, we've come a long way in the three years since I entered politics on a climate change platform. There is still a long way to go, but there is some progress. I believe that we need to set more ambitious targets and we need to find ways to improve our agility and ways of adopting innovation in policymaking to get us there, and accountability on how we actually measure emissions and impacts from methane and gas. We know that the government have set their ambition at 43 per cent by 2030, and they don't appear to be swaying from that, but thankfully the crossbench secured amendments to the Climate Change Act that was passed last year that clarified that 43 per cent is only a floor for the ambition, not a ceiling. This sent an important signal to the market and to industries that more ambition was needed and was possible.

Another important amendment, which I moved, to the Climate Change Act was the annual climate change statement, and Minister Bowen delivered the first of these in December. That was a very welcome initiative of transparency and accountability, and I believe it's an important document to be received annually in this place.

What was notable about Minister Bowen's statement was that the government believe that, after only six months in office, they are on track to now achieve 40 per cent emissions reductions by 2030. This means, as I have been saying for some 3½ years already, that with the right policies and a little more pressure we could see Australia far exceed 43 per cent by 2030. We have the capacity and the technology, we just need the political will in this place to pull the levers and set in place the regulatory framework that enables the investment and transition to happen as fast as possible.

The International Energy Agency has made clear that we can have no new oil, coal or gas projects opened up if we want to keep temperatures as close to 1.5 degrees as possible. We see countries around the world rocked by successive tragedies and disasters of a scale unimaginable. Here in Australia, on the east coast, we've seen flooding on a scale that has just never been seen before. We've seen the bushfires of 2019. We see these events rock our communities time and time again, and more and more frequently now, and so we must find the political will to act with more urgency.

So I am critical of this government because, despite this commitment, there is a level of greenwashing if it is also going to continue approving gas projects and extending coalmine licences. We now have the prospect of PEP-11 on the coastline between Newcastle and Manly. We see the PEP-11 gas exploration area reopened for decision by the joint authority as a result of the consent orders in the court proceedings. I will strongly oppose that, and I pledge to my community and to the communities along the east coast that we will absolutely be fighting and advocating for this application to be rejected.

The Narrabri gas fracking continues towards production, despite strong opposition from so many local communities, despite the International Energy Agency clearly stating we must—must!—stop new gas projects. And just last week the Lake Vermont coalmine approval was extended—until 2063! Now, seriously! It is greenwashing by the government if it is on the one hand going to extend those kinds of licences but on the other say that it is committed to reducing emissions. We need to be very clear that we need to reduce gross emissions. It's not enough to just say: 'On net, on a balancing of the budget, we're going to get there.' We actually have to reduce gross emissions, and that does mean no longer extending coalmine licences and not approving new licences for gas extraction or coalmining.

In relation to the statement, it is comprehensive, and I welcome that, but it can be improved in a couple of key items. It should include an analysis and direction statements in relation to key sectors of the economy. The report contains emissions projections which actually show an increase in emissions between now and 2030 from fugitive emissions, from land use, agriculture and transport. We need to reduce emissions across the board. I accept that some sectors will be slower than others—that they have a more difficult situation and the technology is not as advanced—but that does not exempt them from needing to reduce emissions. We can't have a situation of increasing gross emissions. We must reduce them.

The electricity sector transition is expected to contribute 90 per cent of the emissions reductions to 2030. I would say that is an unfair or uneven burden on just that sector, and there must still be pressure and focus on the other sectors to reduce emissions.

The statements should include targets for the five-year periods post 2030. I've spoken many times in this place of the need to provide long-term certainty and a clear road map to business and to industry on how they may drive their investments so that there can be confidence of investment—especially when we're talking manufacturing—around innovation and new technologies.

The annual statement has Australia on track for an emissions reduction of only 48 per cent by 2035, including the safeguard mechanism reforms and the electricity target. Now, that is not good enough. We absolutely must have a much more ambitious target for the next nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, which is for 2035, or we will have to be honest with communities about the kinds of disruption, upheaval, uncertainty, risk and catastrophic events that are likely to occur and accelerate and rock those communities.

We absolutely must introduce much better monitoring, reporting and validation of methane emissions. And before the Nationals cry out about cows and say I'm against cattle, this is about gas production. The largest proportion of methane emissions is in fact from gas extraction, and then in the transport and export of gas, and yet we still don't have a system that properly monitors that. Companies are permitted to simply give an estimate and an averaging of what they believe methane emissions are. That is just not good enough.

I believe strongly, as many others do, that it's time to start talking about what our next nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement should be. At COP27, we learnt that the current commitments are not enough to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. We need to accelerate ambition. This is a race, and we are barely on the start line. It's time to accelerate. We must commit—and I strongly push the government to do so—to a 75 per cent emissions reduction by 2035. This is a realistic target and a necessary target. Let's be clear: it is a necessary target if we want any hope of net zero really being meaningful and any hope of holding warming to somewhere close to 1.5 degrees.

In fact, the UK has already committed to reducing emissions by 78 per cent by 2035. New South Wales is aiming at 70 per cent by 2035. Victoria is aiming at 75 to 80 per cent by 2035.

Now, I shouldn't have to explain the implications of not acting. Those are clear, from a safety point of view for our communities. But let's be clear about the economic imperative as well. It's essential for business and investment to know the trajectory post 2030. Increasing our ambition is necessary to attract the investment that is flooding towards green projects in other jurisdictions. In the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act has already started to generate trillions of dollars of investment in US green industries and manufacturing of batteries, electric vehicles, solar panels and associated manufacturing. Australia needs to at least match the ambition of the US to credentialise itself as a partner in the development of new green global supply chains and benefit from the global economic shifts that are taking place.

For me and my electorate of Warringah, the opportunities presented by this green economy transition have always been top of mind when we talk about solving this climate crisis. It is such a fallacy to talk about the cost of transition. It is the opportunity of transition. Deloitte Access Economics forecasts that we could add over 250,000 jobs and $680 billion to the Australian economy by pursuing policies to get us back to net zero.

So I believe we need stronger targets and we need to increase ambition. But I say to Minister Bowen, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, that I welcome the statement. I look forward to working to increase the government's ambition. We need more guidance for the future. The investment sector, business and manufacturing are waiting, ready, willing and able to assist the government in this transition.