Member for Warringah Zali Steggall has unveiled proposed legislation that would establish a pathway for Australia to reach a zero net emissions target by 2050, that the Independent MP hopes will unite members from both sides of parliament around the plan.
The proposed legislation, which is being co-sponsored by fellow independents Rebekah Sharkie, Helen Haines and Andrew Wilkie, would establish a framework for ensuring Australia achieves a zero net emissions target by 2050 with the advice of an independent expert body modelled on similar legislation introduced overseas.
Steggall has called for a conscience vote on the climate change bill, which Steggall hopes can win the support of moderates within the Liberal party who argue that more action must be taken to address the causes of climate change.
The bill, formally known as the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaption and Mitigation) Bill, would require the federal government to establish national plans for reducing emissions and adaption to climate change, that must be regularly reviewed and updated by the government.
“This Bill is a sensible and bipartisan approach to safeguarding Australia’s future against the impacts of Climate Change,” Steggall said. “The devastating fires that ripped through Australia over summer; the drought; and our deteriorating air pollution have shown how the impacts of climate change are a real threat to our way of life.”
“It is time to take the party politics out of climate policy. It is a matter of principle that we should all be committed to a safer future. I am urging for a conscience vote when I present the bill on March 23 as a Private Member’s Bill. Now is the time for a rational approach to climate change.”
Steggall will be targeting support from moderate Liberals, including Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma, Tim Wilson, Katie Allen, Fiona Martin and John Alexander, who have all called on their own party to embrace stronger climate change targets. At least three members of the Coalition would need to cross the floor for the bill to pass.
The proposal to fix a commitment to achieving zero net emissions by 2050 into law succeed in gaining support from the Coalition government, with federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor telling Nine newspapers that the government is looking to announce a long-term emissions reduction target.
Steggall announced her intention to propose climate change legislation in October, after the parliament voted down a motion that sought to make a formal declaration of a climate change emergency.
The bill would establish an independent Climate Change Commission, to monitor and advise the government and parliament on progress made towards taking climate change and how those efforts can be ramped up.
The bill would also enshrine into law a specific target of zero net emissions by 2050. Ministers may vary the target, but only on the recommendation of an independent Climate Change Commission, established by the legislation, with commission consisting of Australia’s chief scientist, along with six others with relevant expertise.
Under Steggall’s plan the independent Commission would effectively replace the Climate Change Authority, which was formed under the Gillard government to provide similar advice on emissions targets and policy, but has been significantly diminished in size and scope under successive coalition governments.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, Zali Steggall’s predecessor as the member for Warringah, wound up the Gillard era Climate Commission, which also provided independent advice to government on climate science at the time.
The Climate Commission was re-born as the Climate Council with private funding, after an unprecedented crowd-funding initiative revived the organisation. The Climate Council welcomed Steggall’s push to introduce the climate change bill, but called for more ambitious emissions reduction targets.
“This offers a great opportunity for the Federal Parliament to take a tangible, effective step to tackle climate change. The bushfire crisis showed us just how catastrophic climate change is for Australia and how desperately we need a breakthrough,” Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said.
“But while the bill is a step in the right direction, it will need to be ratcheted up considerably over time. The bill is more conservative than the climate change legislation we need right now. We must reach net zero emissions well before 2040, 2050 is way too late,” McKenzie added.
Under the plan, the federal government would be required to set five-year national emissions budgets, along with five-year plans for meeting those budgets in accordance with a series of guiding principles contained within the legislation, that cover effective action, fiscal responsibility, fair employment transition and community engagement.
The government would also be required to prepare and regularly update national climate change adaptation plans, ensuring Australia is adequately responding to the changes to the environment and economy.
It’s a proposal that has won the backing of former government advisor on climate change, economist Ross Garnaut, who said that he hoped it would bring an end to the more than decade long political conflict over Australian energy and climate policy.
“We now have reasons to hope that the real Climate Wars are over. There has been increasing and there is now widely shared understanding that temperatures are rising as a result of human activity and will continue to do so until we have achieved zero net emissions of greenhouse gases. Skirmishes continue – maybe forever – about the detail of how we respond to the shared understanding,” Garnaut said.
“Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill provides an opportunity for the Australian Federal Parliament to move decisively beyond the Climate Wars. Being introduced by a Member of Parliament from outside the partisan divide, it can pass without any of the Parties of government backing down from explicit electoral commitments.”
The bill has also received support from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Climate and Health Alliance and Farmers for Climate Action.
“Conservative governments of major economic powerhouses like the UK and Germany are getting on with the job of tackling climate change with legitimate policy and coal phase-out plans, leaving Australia behind,” Greenpeace Australia’s head of research and investigations Dr Nikola Casule said.
Despite having previously campaigned against the carbon price, and labelling Labor’s emissions reduction targets “economy wrecking“, the Business Council of Australia may also back the plan for a zero emissions target, with the business lobby undertaking a wholesale review of its climate change stance. Members of the Business Council have faced growing pressure from shareholder groups to reconsider their membership of the peak body, due to a regressive stance on climate action.
“We urge all federal MPs to stand with mainstream Australians and vote with their conscience on this bill.”
Steggall expects to table the bill in the federal parliament during the March sitting.
The chair of the ACT’s independent Climate Change Council and former Chief Scientist for Australia Penny Sackett joined the launch of the bill, saying that it represented a “fresh start” for national climate policy.
“Today, a new compact has been drafted between Parliament and the Australian people. This bill offers hope that not another year will pass without a framework established – in law – to respond to the risk climate change presents to the prosperity and security of Australians,” Sackett said.
The proposed bill has been modelled on similar legislation passed by the parliaments of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, with the New Zealand Zero Carbon Bill being passed by parliament with near unanimous support.
The United Kingdom’s Committee on Climate Change has already been operating for more than a decade, established in 2008. The body recommended to the UK parliament that the country adopt a target of zero net emissions by 2050, which was subsequently adopted by the Parliament in June last year, becoming the first major economy to enshrine such a target in law.
The winter olympic medallist Zali Steggall was elected as the member for Warringah at the 2019 federal election, after defeating former prime minister Tony Abbott in the contest for the Sydney North Shore seat after Steggall promoted a platform based around stronger climate change action and strong support for the renewable energy sector.
You can hear more about Zali Steggall’s plans to tackle climate change in her interview with RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast.