Published 15 February 2016
When it comes to action on climate change, attention is inevitably focused on what national governments are doing and saying. However, states and other sub-national governments also have critical roles to play in climate change mitigation and adaption. Indeed, many of the policy responses to address climate change, are in state rather than federal powers.
Within Australia, ambitious targets to reduce emissions have been set by South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, with South Australia recently committing to net zero emissions by 2050. Victoria’s proportion of the national emissions profile is greater than all of these jurisdictions combined, due to its large population and economic activity. Victoria therefore shoulders a much greater responsibility to help achieve the national emissions reduction target as well as set its own independent state-based target, as has occurred elsewhere in the world. It also has a duty of care to minimise the inevitable impacts of climate change, which we are already starting to experience.
The need for a strong legislative framework
The Victorian Government can achieve its stated goal to be a leader on climate change by adopting state-based policies that are guided by effective legislation. In June last year, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water established an independent review of the Climate Change Act 2010 as one of the first steps to developing a strong framework for climate change action. We were given carriage of this review and after months of public consultation our report, Independent Review of the Climate Change Act 2010, has been tabled in the Victorian Parliament.
The report contains 33 recommendations that would ensure Victoria has a durable, fit-for-purpose legislative framework to tackle climate change, now and into the future. This provides an architecture within which policy can be made, and while policy might change in response to future national measures or technological progress, the process for decision-making and reporting need not.
A Victorian emissions reduction target
For the Act to facilitate real action on climate change we have recommended that the government set a long-term emissions reduction target and interim targets every five years. We have not specified what that target should be, only that it be based on the best available science and that it can be adjusted in light of new information. However, it is intended that the target be in line with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and to purse efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. It is also recommended that the target be enshrined in the legislation to signal that it is a government priority.
A Climate Change Charter
To ensure consideration of climate change across all government decision making, policies and programs, we have recommended the government develop a Charter of Climate Change Objectives and Principles. The proposed Charter would define climate change objectives for Victoria and set principles to guide the delivery of those objectives across the whole of government. Particular legislative decisions with major impacts on the state’s emissions, or climate change readiness, are specified in an expanded Schedule 1 of the Act. If the Charter is not taken into consideration during the decision-making process, the decision will be subject to legal challenge.
Tools to embed climate change action
To effectively address climate change, the government needs to clearly define the risks associated with climate change, as well as provide a framework for action. We have recommended that the existing requirement to prepare a Climate Change Adaptation Plan be replaced with the requirement to produce a five-yearly Victorian Climate Change Strategy that addresses both climate change mitigation and adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The focus of our recommendations is also on how the Climate Change Act can support whole-of-government consideration of climate change in everyday decisions, as this must become ‘the new normal’.
Adaptation and disaster risk reduction
The proposed new Strategy should specify the risk and likely economic costs of climate change to Victoria and set out the role and responsibilities of the state and local governments for addressing adaption and disaster risk reduction. The Act should also introduce a requirement for each lead department to prepare an Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan and identify opportunities for private sector involvement, particularly insurance companies.
The proposed Strategy should also look at how the state can reduce its emissions and set out government policies and actions for meeting the state’s emissions reduction target. It is recommended that each government department pledge an amount of emissions reduction they will deliver based on the emissions within their portfolios and their ability to take action. Each department will be required to develop a Low Carbon Growth Plan setting out their actions that help reach the long-term target, and assessing their impact on emissions. These Plans can evolve to become business-as-usual tools, embedded in existing processes such as corporate plans, policy reviews and budget submissions.
Other recommendations include: the government providing greater access to public land for the purposes of carbon sequestration; empowering the Environment Protection Authority to impose emissions limits in licences; and the possibility of establishing a state-based emissions trading scheme, or adopting other financial incentives to accelerate the phase out of emissions-intensive facilities.
Stronger enforcement, monitoring and reporting
While a Climate Change Act can set a clear framework for dealing with climate change, it is not sufficient to govern all aspects of Victoria’s response to this issue. The Act must of course be seen as part of the broader legislative and policy agenda of government to deal with climate change. It will work alongside measures to support renewable energy, electric vehicles, energy efficiency and other initiatives to transition away from fossil fuels toward a near-zero emissions future.
Action on climate change is fundamental to the long-term health of Victoria, its economy, its environment and its people. The Victorian Government has an obligation to tackle climate change, and it could start by adopting a more effective framework for action that is enshrined in legislation.
By members of the Independent Review Committee of the Climate Change Act 2010
Martijn Wilder AM (Chair) – head of law firm Baker and McKenzie’s Global Environmental Markets practice
Anna Skarbek – CEO of ClimateWorks Australia
Professor Rosemary Lyster – Professor of Climate and Environmental Law, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney (Co-Convenor SNCCS, Sydney Environment Institute)
Image: Tim J Keegan ‘Bestest seat in the house_8672’ via Flickr Commons