Australia’s climate change laws

The Globe Climate Legislation Study was published in January 2013, focusing on 33 countries.

For the first time climate policymakers have a clear idea of how countries around the world are attempting to control their greenhouse gas emissions.

Visit the Globe International website to download a full report and access data from the other countries featured. Below are the highlights from the Australia section.

Commentary: Terry Townshend

Following the announcement by returning Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, of the date of the next general election – 7 September 2013 – both the Government and the Opposition are beginning their political campaigns.

Carbon is going to feature strongly.

Since the late 1990s climate change has been a divisive issue in Australian politics.  In 1998 Australia set up the world’s first national government agency dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, although Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 it did not ratify it until December 2007 when the Labour Party won the 2007 election.

Labour wanted to legislate on climate change and controversy over the introduction of federal legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions became particularly acute after 2009, with both major parties – the Australian Labour Party and the Liberal-National Party coalition – advocating different approaches.

After the Federal election in 2010 the Government began a concerted effort to pass national climate change legislation and introduced the Clean Energy Act, a package of 18 bills.

Australia’s Clean Energy Act sets a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent from 2000 levels by 2050 and passed the Senate by a narrow majority in 2011.

The law introduced a fixed carbon price, applicable to large polluters, effective from July 2012, to be replaced by an emissions trading scheme in July 2015.

Today, polls show that one of the key issues on which voters will base their allegiance in September is how the parties’ position themselves on the carbon price.

This is not because climate change, as an issue, is particularly at the forefront of voters’ minds – it ranks tenth in a list of issues recently published at – but because the performance of the economy is the number one issue and a carbon price is perceived to impact on the performance of the economy, either positively or negatively depending on your point of view.

Australia is a high carbon economy and relies heavily on export revenue from mining and agriculture, both of which have long-term environmental consequences.

A carbon price will undoubtedly create extra costs in the short-term.

The debate is whether these short-term costs, designed to help the Australian economy transition away from a high-carbon unsustainable economic model towards a more sustainable and competitive lower carbon economy, are acceptable to the electorate.

The alternative is to exploit the high carbon economy further, creating greater short-term income but at the expense of preparing the Australian economy for a future low carbon global economy that is powered by clean energy.

Public opinion was clearly on the mind of Kevin Rudd when he announced in July that the planned emissions trading scheme would replace the fixed carbon tax a year earlier than originally planned, citing annual savings for the average household of AUSD 380 due to the lower carbon price envisaged under a trading scheme.

Whilst Labour remains strongly in favour of a carbon price, the Opposition’s policy on climate change is to repeal the carbon tax and, instead, initiate a “direct action plan” focusing on carbon sequestration and funding industrial improvements through taxpayer-funded actions.

To repeal the legislation requires a majority in both the lower and upper houses, so even if Labour loses the election, it is not a given that the legislation will be repealed.

It will be fascinating to see which way the country moves in September and we can be sure that other countries will be watching with interest.

Political context:
Climate change has been a contentious issue in Australian politics since the late 1990s.

In 1998, the Australian government set up the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO), which was the world’s first national government agency dedicated to reducing GHG emissions, and the National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS).

Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in April 1998, but did not ratify it until December 2007. Controversy over the introduction of federal legislation to limit GHG emissions has become particularly acute since 2009, with both major parties (the Australian Labor Party or ALP, and the Liberal ‐ National Party coalition or LNP) advocating different approaches.

Sub national level:
Several states have climate legislation and emission reduction targets. The state of South Australia has set ambitious targets in its 2007 legislation – reducing emissions by 60% to be 40% under 1990 levels by 2050; production and consumption of at least 20% renewable energy by 2014. Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2010 came into effect in July 2011

Energy demand:
The budget for 2012–2013 allocates AUS$37.1 million (US$39 million) in funding to introduce a nationally consistent legislative framework for Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards to regulate equipment energy efficiency. This framework will replace an inefficient patchwork of state and territory schemes. The budget also includes AUS$2.8 million (US$2.9 million) in additional funding for a range of building energy efficiency activities, including maintenance and improvement of current building regulatory schemes.

Energy supply:
As of 2011, around 7% of Australia’s electricity is supplied by renewable sources. Hydroelectricity, bagasse (a by ‐ product of sugarcane), wood and wood waste together account for 85% of renewable energy production in Australia. Wind energy and solar energy are rapidly growing sectors within the renewable energy market.

Land use:
Emissions from land use change and land management account for around 25% of Australia’s GHG emissions, a situation which stands the country apart from most of the other Annex I countries. The Australian government established the National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS) in 1998 to provide a complete accounting and forecasting system for human ‐ induced sources and sinks of GHG emissions from Australian land‐based activities.

Transport emissions account for approximately 15% of Australia’s total GHG emissions. The Clean Energy Act 2011 specifically exempts transport fuel emissions from inclusion within emissions calculations and from the carbon price. In order to reduce emissions from transport, the current ALP government intends to introduce mandatory emissions standards for vehicles, following on from a 2010 election commitment. A discussion paper on light vehicle CO 2 emissions standards was released in 2011, and comments were requested by December 2011. The discussion paper is intended to form the basis for new standards to be developed and implemented from 2015 for all new vehicles.

In the budget for 2012–2013, AUS$3 million (US$3.1 million) in funding are allocated to support the development of climate change adaptation policy and risk analysis. In February 2010, the government published a position paper on adaptation. The paper identifies six national priority areas for action: water, coasts, infrastructure, natural ecosystems, natural disaster management and agriculture. The paper emphasises responsibility sharing between government and private parties, and allocation of responsibilities among different levels of government.

Australia has a wide range of legislation relating to climate and energy, in addition to those mentioned above. For a full list and more information visit the dedicated India page on the Globe website.

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