NSW to be first state to regulate CO2 as pollutant under sweeping new proposals

Australia's bushfire threat is beyond 'worst case scenario's experts say. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)
AAP Image/Darren Pateman

New South Wales will become Australia’s first state to regulate C02 and other greenhouse gases as pollutants under sweeping new environmental policies, effectively establishing emission cutting targets for industrial polluters and potentially creating a template for broader national policies to combat climate change.

In a  draft Climate Change Policy and Action Plan released on Thursday, and designed to guide industry and communities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the NSW EPA is proposing a set of robust actions to achieve a 50 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030 ( from 2005 levels) and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The EPA’s newly-appointed CEO, Tony chappel, said the aim of the proposal was to introduce regulatory policies to ensure the state’s climate targets are met, but stressed it wasn’t a “one size fits all approach” and that a key focus was to ensure a robust economic outcome.

Importantly, the proposal seeks to mandate that industry starts reporting on their specific emission reduction plans and transition to net zero.

“We want businesses to be building resilience and climate adaptation,” Chappel said.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state and biggest economy, already has ambitious targets that align with global scientific advice and the Paris commitments to limit global warming to an average of 1.5C and to reach net zero targets, and an infrastructure plan to replace the bulk of its coal fired generators.

“This draft policy sends a clear signal to regulated industries that we will be working with them to support and drive cost-effective decarbonisation, while implementing adaptation initiatives that build resilience to climate change risks,” the EPA’s newly appointed CEO ,Tony Chappel said.

The draft proposes a staged approach and is designed to support industry and allow reasonable time for businesses to plan for and meet new targets or requirements, according to Chappel.

The policy also calls for progressively placing “feasible, evidence-based” greenhouse gas emission limits and other regulatory requirements on environment protection licenses for key industry sectors.

The EPA developed the draft proposal after the group Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action took legal action arguing the EPA had a duty to regulate CO2  as a safeguard against effects of climate change. The court agreed and in September 2021 ordered the EPA to develop safeguarding policies and procedures.

BSCA spokesperson Fiona Lee said “the devil will be in the details” of the draft and that the group

“This is an important step towards eliminating climate pollution across our whole economy,” said Jacqui Mumford, chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council. “As surprising as it may seem, this will be the first time and environmental watchdog in Australia has regulated CO2 s a pollutant.

“Ultimately, we’ll only know this policy is succeeding when damaging proposals like coal and gas mines are rejected and NSW companies are on a rapid path to zero emissions,” Mumford said.

A report last year by the EPA  noted that fuel production and combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation accounted for almost 80 percent of NSW’s emissions in 2018-19.

Chappel said he expects to see the proposal finalised by Christmas, with a public input period running for the next eight weeks.

Animal welfare advocate group Vets for Climate Action said climate change was having a devastating impact on native species and that the release of the draft represented an important step forward.

“The 2019/2022 bushfires killed billions of animals, insects and birds,” VCA CEO, Tara O’Connell said. “The floods earlier this year killed livestock, pets and wildlife.”

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