An independent review into the Victoria’s Climate Change Act has found the current legislation to be “inadequate” in its response to the threat of global warming, and has made 33 recommendations on how it can be strengthened.
The most striking recommendation for the state that hosts Australia’s fleet of highly polluting brown coal-fired power generators is the introduction of a long-term state emissions reduction target based on restricting global warming to 1.5°C, as well as five-yearly interim targets.
The proposed target is in keeping with the landmark pact made at the Paris COP21 to keep global temperature increase “well below” 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. It is also in line with the current climate science, that argues 2°C could be “inadequate” as a safe limit.
But the target could prove ambitious for a state that hosts some of the world’s dirtiest coal-fried power stations, and a fossil fuel dominated grid.
Indeed, some – like Australian climate activist David Spratt – have questioned the target’s ability to be achieved in Victoria – even in the long term. He suggests that the “carbon budget” for the state is already used up for a 1.5C target.
— David Spratt (@djspratt) February 11, 2016
Undertaken in 2015 and tabled in the Victorian parliament on Thursday, the review’s main goal, according to the government, was to “undo the damage” the previous Coalition government had done to the 2010 legislation, and to help restore Victoria as a leader in climate change action.
“The previous Liberal government did nothing for four years,” said state climate minister Lisa Neville. “We will make sure we protect communities and the environment, avoid costs to the economy, drive innovation and strongly position Victoria in a low-carbon economy.”
In a statement on Thursday, the chair of the review’s independent committee, Martijn Wilder AM, said it had found that the Act did not meet the current and future needs of Victoria, when responding to climate change.
Wilder – who is the head of global environmental markets at Baker & McKenzie – said the resulting recommendations had factored in 103 unique public submissions and a further 1556 campaign submissions on the matter, as well as the Paris COP agreement on the need to limit warming to well below 2°C.
Wilder said the committee had also kept in mind the increasingly important role of sub-national governments in taking action on climate change.
Among its recommendations, the Committee proposes an increase in the powers of the state Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating emissions reduction, and the development of a comprehensive climate change strategy every five years.
It also recommends the state consider “the suite of options available to reduce emissions at their source;” and that the Act introduces a requirement for each lead department to develop an Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan (ADDRAP).
To support the achievement of any interim emissions targets, the report also recommends that government require all departments and relevant agencies to commit, or pledge, an amount of emissions reduction they will deliver and to set out the actions they plan to take to meet this pledge in a Low Carbon Growth Plan.
The report and its recommendations have been welcomed by state green groups, but they say how the Andrews government now responds to it will be a key test.
“We need swift development of the state’s strategy on climate change, and in the meantime actions that reduce Victoria’s greenhouse pollution must be funded in the upcoming state budget in May,” said Environment Victoria CEO Mark Wakeham on Thursday.
“The soon-to-be-released Renewable Energy Action Plan is a key opportunity to ensure Victoria starts cleaning up our energy supply, which is responsible for half of our carbon pollution.
“An ambitious plan will create thousands of jobs across the state and kickstart new regional clean energy projects. Equally important will be that the Plan facilitates the orderly closure of our oldest and dirtiest power stations like Hazelwood and Yallourn, and invests in a transition plan for the Latrobe Valley.”
But responses to the review’s findings also note the importance of bipartisan support for any changes to the act.
“We hope Matthew Guy and his party room accept the review and use it to inform a credible Coalition policy on climate change, which has been sadly lacking,” said Wakeham.
“We need to remember that it was the Coalition who gutted the CCA 2010 when they were in power. It is imperative that they support a re-write of the Act to strengthen its powers” said Cam Walker from environmental group Friends of the Earth.
“In the 21st century, action on climate change is far too important to fall prey to party politics. We urge the Coalition to actively support a radical strengthening of the Act.”
“It is essential that the amended Act outlast the existing government. This requires support from the Coalition. We cannot afford to lose more time on climate change.”