Zali Steggall’s new climate change bill comes just as economic sectors step up


Anna Malos, ClimateWorks Australia and Amandine Denis-Ryan, Monash University

Yesterday, Zali Steggall, the independent member for Warringah, introduced her long-awaited climate change bill to the Australian parliament.

Much of the debate around the bill centres on what needs to be done for Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2050. That’s a crucial discussion — but it’s equally vital to recognise what’s already been committed.




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Conservative but green independent MP Zali Steggall could break the government’s climate policy deadlock


Our project, the Net Zero Momentum Tracker, monitors Australia’s journey towards net zero emissions, tracking climate commitments and progress in key sectors of the economy. This includes superannuation, transport, retail, property and local government, and a forthcoming analysis of the resources sector.

We’ve found progress is, in general, going well. These sectors are increasingly making more climate-active commitments, which means the moment is right for precisely the kind of pivot Steggall’s bill seeks to facilitate.

What the climate change bill proposes

Steggall has garnered huge support outside of politics. In a joint letter this week, more than 100 Australian businesses, industry groups and community organisations endorsed the bill as a critical step in the recovery from the pandemic.

This included Oxfam, the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU, the Australian Medical Association and our organisation, ClimateWorks Australia

Along with the 2050 target, the bill proposes the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission. It also adopts the government’s low emissions technology roadmap and would require the government to introduce risk assessment and adaptation plans.

To reach the 2050 target, the bill calls for a process to review the target every five years, and ensure independent advice on five-yearly emissions budgets.

An emissions budget sets the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted over five-year periods — in line with requirements for the Paris Agreement on climate. This is important because the amount of global warming depends on cumulative emissions, not emissions in any one year.

Tracking the sectors

Australia can no longer consider a commitment to a net zero target as a matter of ideology or a moral gesture. Increasingly, it’s simple economic common sense, especially for investors.

In 2019, Geoff Summerhayes from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority pointed out that climate change now constitutes “a legally foreseeable risk facing many different companies in a range of different industries”. As such, the financial sector has an obligation to act.

In 2020, the level of ambition in the superannuation sector rose considerably, with REST super now joining Cbus, HESTA and UniSuper with net zero pledges.




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Similarly, the recent ANZ announcement of “strong action to support the Paris Agreement” signals that all the major banks and insurers are moving away from thermal coal, as the International Energy Agency declares solar energy to be the cheapest source of electricity in history.

Certainly, some sectors of the Australian economy are moving faster than others. Our analysis of 21 major property companies found 90% had set an emissions reduction target, while nearly a third were already committed to net zero.

The local government sector is equally proactive. Over a third of the largest local governments we assessed (representing a fifth of the Australian population) have committed to reaching zero community emissions by or before 2050.

And more than half are acting to reduce their operational (or direct) emissions by, for instance, installing solar panels and switching their vehicle fleet to electric vehicles.

By contrast, our analysis showed the retail and transport sectors have a long way to go before they’re aligned with net zero.

Asking ‘how’, not ‘why’

Even in a historically difficult sector like resources, progress is being made.

BHP, for instance, now says it can flourish under conditions compatible with the Paris Agreement. Rather than posing a problem for business, action to decarbonise the global economy will, it declares, present “opportunities to invest in commodities such as potash, nickel and copper”, which will “provide a strong foundation” for its business.

This shows when it comes to net zero many of Australia’s biggest companies no longer ask “why”, but instead focus on “how”.

In part, that’s because businesses that don’t change know they increasingly risk isolation.

For example, the International Energy Agency said in its annual report that demand for Australian thermal coal has peaked, and renewables will meet 80% of the world’s energy demands in the coming years.

Japan, South Korea and the European Union have committed to reaching net zero by 2050, and US President-elect Joe Biden says his administration will make the same pledge. China also recently committed to reaching net zero by 2060.




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That means the vast majority of Australia’s exports are going to trading partners who have committed to transform their economies.

This will result in a shift in demand from high-carbon products and services, such as thermal coal, towards zero or near zero carbon alternatives, such as renewable hydrogen.

An opportunity, not a threat

Such a demand also presents extraordinary opportunities. The international transition to cleaner economies is a chance for Australia to become a renewable energy superpower.

After all, Australia possesses the world’s third-largest reserves of lithium and currently produces nine of the ten elements required for lithium-ion batteries.

Likewise, by 2030, Australia could be using renewable electricity and water to produce 500,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually, one of the most important commodities of the transition into a clean economy.

Providing certainty to businesses

In tracking the momentum to net zero, we’ve seen the importance of clear targets in raising ambition, encouraging innovation and fostering the deployment of known solutions quickly and at scale.

And a parliamentary commitment to decarbonisation at the federal level, backed by interim targets set every five years, would provide businesses and the public with the certainty they need to plan.




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Many other countries, such as Britain, already have their own climate change acts. So, too, does the state of Victoria.

Across the country, all the state and territory governments have made net zero commitments – and our assessment of local governments found many of them to be taking strong stands, too. It’s time for the federal parliament to get on board.The Conversation

Anna Malos, Project Manager, climate and energy policy, ClimateWorks Australia and Amandine Denis-Ryan, Head of National Programs, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conservative but green independent MP Zali Steggall could break the government’s climate policy deadlock


Kate Crowley, University of Tasmania

When barrister, former world champion alpine skier, and now independent MP Zali Steggall took Tony Abbott’s New South Wales seat of Warringah in the 2019 election, she promised to pressure the government for action on climate change.

She was voicing the heightened concern in Warringah about climate change and the environment, and repudiating the denialism of one-time Prime Minister Abbott, who once described climate change as “absolute crap”.




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On Monday, Steggall released her Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020. It will be presented to the federal House of Representatives on March 23 for a vote.

The bill came just as horrendous flooding hit the east coast of Australia, not quite extinguishing the fires that, nationally, have killed 33 people, burned 11 million hectares of land, and destroyed thousands of homes.

Steggall’s bill outlines ways to bring Australia’s carbon emissions down to zero by 2050. It focuses on climate risks, with adaptation and mitigation measures to secure a more resilient Australia, including establishing an independent climate change commission to advise parliament.

Steggall is a non-aligned, conservative independent. So while the bill isn’t likely to pass – most private members bills don’t – hers is unique in its non-partisan nature. And it could even shift Australia’s stubborn climate change politics through her #ClimateActNow appeal to the public.

What the bill says

The federal government, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular, have faltered in leadership and policy in the face of Australia’s recent disasters. He argues the government will not be panicked into stronger climate policy.




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Last year, the government was re-elected on a platform of supporting an expanded coal industry, promoting regional coal industry jobs, paying polluters to reduce emissions, paying for reduced land clearing, and using carry-over credits to meet its global emissions target.

But Steggall’s bill changes the climate policy conversation entirely. It calls for a detailed risk assessment of the challenges of warming across all sectors, and national plans for adapting to those challenges, while reducing emissions in a transparent and accountable way.

It provides five-year plans to reduce emissions to zero by 2050, linking climate risks and impacts with emissions reduction. The plans are sector-wide, as similar plans are in the UK, with safeguards to ensure equitable transition, and they’ll be revised to adjust emissions reduction targets every five years.

This is a climate policy approach that reflects national and international malaise about Australia’s recent bush fire horrors, and now flooding crisis, because proposing zero emissions by 2050 is what more than 60 countries have already promised.

What’s more, the bill calls for transparent monitoring, reporting and accountability in line with global expectations, by establishing an independent Climate Change Commission. The commission’s role wouldn’t be to develop policy, but to ensure the five-year climate plans are progressing towards their targets.

Non-partisan nature

On the same day as its release, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott put forward her support for a net zero emissions target, saying Zali’s bill offered a sensible climate target the major parties could agree on.

Westacott’s support signals to the Morrison government the business community is looking for more ambitious and targeted climate policy action, anticipating the new jobs that will follow a transition to a low carbon economy.

But the main strength of Zali’s bill is its non-partisan nature. And it’s important for side stepping toxic climate politics and for proposing reasoned, apolitical, tried and tested policy solutions.

The bill is modelled on the David Cameron government’s 2008 Climate Change Act in the UK – legislation from a conservative party. This act sets carbon budgets, which can be controversial, but the UK are successfully reducing emissions.




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Shifting the climate debate

All it would take for Zali’s bill to pass is for a majority of MPs in the House of Representatives to vote for it, meaning some members of the government would need to use their vote.

If this were to happen, it would be a relief for business and industry, which are looking for certainty; for State and Territories, which are building vibrant renewable energy economies; and for Australians for whom climate change is now a foremost concern.

Although members of parliament are elected to represent their constituents, political allegiance invariably trumps popular will as they vote along party lines.

So Steggall is appealing directly to voters to contact their MP to secure support for her bill, and through her “Climate Act Now” petition.




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If enough constituents do this, the climate debate may shift as a result of Zali’s efforts. Whether or not her legislation is adopted as she has proposed it, it may still open the door to a revised version resolving Australia’s climate policy deadlock.

This is an almost impossible task, but Zali will likely build support as she did in seeking her election in Warringah, by staying focused, by meeting as many people as possible, and by staying true to her ideas.


Correction: an earlier version of this article used an incorrect hashtag, #ClimateActionNow. It also stated the matter would go to a “conscience vote” in parliament, rather than just a vote. This has been amended.The Conversation

Kate Crowley, Associate Professor, Public and Environmental Policy, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.