Friends of the Earth Australia welcomes the rapid movement of the new federal government on key election commitments, including those covering environment, climate and energy.
We note that the government has already acted to update Australia’s emission reduction targets from the 26-28% target of the Coalition to a new commitment of 43% reduction by 2030.
The federal ALP has a resounding mandate to meet and then exceed its commitments on climate, energy and environment. There has never been a more supportive federal parliament, with strong representation from the Greens and climate independents, who will back more ambitious action. We believe that continued rapid implementation of the existing platform will create many opportunities for deeper emissions cuts and deeper reform of environmental laws.
Our Top 5 Priorities
Rebuild our climate knowledge: It is essential that we restore science to our decision making process around climate, energy and environment. The previous government weakened many of our national institutions, which now must be rebuilt. As a starting point, we must restore the independence of the Climate Change Authority.
Meet and exceed climate commitments: The adoption of a more ambitious emission reduction target for 2030 will be essential to align climate policy with the best available science. The Climate Council recommends a target of 75% reduction against 2005 levels by 2030.
Establish a national Just Transition Authority: a national JTA (for instance, the proposal for Transition Australia) would be responsible for working with trade unions, Traditional Owners, local community and environment groups, and local and state governments, on coordinating just transition plans at the regional level.
Get renewables right: Develop robust guidelines to ensure that the mass rollout of renewable energy projects required to meet our climate commitments tick the boxes of having strong social licence, secure union jobs, and minimal environmental impacts.
Rule out further fossil fuel development: The IEA’s 2021 report on decarbonising the energy sector makes the case that for the world to meet the 1.5°C challenge, ‘there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.’ As a government that acknowledges the gravity of the latest climate science and the need to act decisively to reduce emissions, the ALP must commit to no further development of any fossil fuels.
Specific Policy Proposals
Strengthen government institutions to provide robust evidence-based climate policy advice
The former Coalition government weakened institutions that are critical to providing independent science-based policy advice to the Australian government. As a priority, the Albanese government should restore our institutional ability to tackle the climate crisis by:
- Restoring the independence of the Climate Change Authority by ensuring board members have recognised expertise, including climatology, law, economics and ecology. As part of this, annual reviews of climate change policy should be reinstated.
- Enshrining the importance of the Chief Scientist as a permanent position within the Commonwealth Public Service, underpinned by statutory authority and subject to public governance legislation to enable frank and fearless advice.
- Reforming Commonwealth grant guidelines to allow public interest research to be funded without requiring industry involvement.
- Restoring the capacity of the CSIRO to undertake pure climate science research.
- Conducting an independent audit of the Emission Reduction Fund (ERF) methodologies and projects, to ensure they are scientifically valid, additional, verifiable and permanent.
- Ensuring that Australia’s emissions accounts and targets cover all greenhouse gases listed in the emissions inventory, and all sectors, including emissions produced by the military and bushfires.
Guide and actively support a rapid transition away from Australia’s current reliance on fossil fuels
Due to a lack of real planning and certainty at a national level, the market and technological innovation are currently driving most of the change that is happening in the stationary energy sector. We can look to examples of previous unplanned economic transitions, such as the loss of domestic car manufacturing, to understand that leaving major economic changes to the market results in negative experiences for displaced workers and their communities. Having a federal government with a deep understanding of the threats posed by climate change presents an opportunity for forward planning that we cannot afford to waste.
- There must be a plan to assist communities which will be at the centre of a rapid transition away from coal, oil and gas. A starting point would be to establish some form of national Just Transition Authority (for instance, the proposal for Transition Australia). This authority would be responsible for working with trade unions, Traditional Owners, local community and environmental groups, and local and state governments to coordinate Just Transition Plans at the regional level. A national authority of this kind with adequate power, resources and skills necessary to bring the right people together will be essential to coordinating a planned broad-scale transition.
- The federal government should commit to funding regional statutory transition authorities (based on existing examples, such as the Latrobe Valley Authority), which would be supported by national coordination
Build in guidelines early to ensure all new renewables projects are ‘best practice’ when it comes to climate, local communities, energy consumers, and ecosystems
Market forces are already driving an unplanned transition from fossil fuels to renewables and storage. To ensure the best outcomes for communities, this process be managed in a socially just and environmentally sustainable way.
- Ensure that climate, environmental and social objectives are included in the National Electricity Objective and National Electricity Law.
- Enshrine the right of First Nations people to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to development on their land by codifying the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (as ratified by the Rudd Government).
- Ensure that the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation program builds in key guidelines from the outset for ‘best practice’ renewable energy projects. These guidelines should cover: avoiding impacts on sensitive ecosystems, local procurement requirements, and thorough community engagement to avoid loss of social licence for the sector.
- Match the Rewiring the Nation fund with an “Energy Storage Target” that unlocks finance for utility scale energy storage to back up other renewable energy supply.
- Fund the rollout of community owned and led renewable energy projects through the expansion of the Community Power Hubs program.
- Release a comprehensive plan to establish Australia’s nascent offshore wind sector as part of a wider energy transition plan. This would facilitate funding for existing offshore wind zones in Gippsland to be expanded to other key regions, such as Wollongong and the Hunter region.
- Create binding standards for renewable energy components to ensure recyclability and development of a circular economy.
- Maximise distributed energy resources, behind-the-metre storage and generation and create incentives to allow the benefits of renewable energy to be enjoyed by all, with low-income households prioritised.
- Allow the negotiation of environmental and social clauses in employment contracts.
Protect and improve community health through climate and environment policy
- Adopt the WHO air quality guidelines for highest safe and clean air standards.
- Include health impacts as a key consideration of all future urban planning, to bolster protection and creation of green spaces in cities. Green spaces have been proven to help with mental resilience and to keep temperatures lower in cities, which will be a vital form of protection against future more intense heat waves.
- Include climate change mitigation as a priority in the Statement of Expectations for the Health Department, and ensure that the Environmental Health Standing Committee is involved in the whole-of-government approach to both climate change strategy and air quality management.
Rejoin international efforts to tackle the climate crisis
- Recommit resources to the Green Climate Fund (on top of Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance).
- Sign onto the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030 on 2020 levels.
- Commit to a review of Australia’s 2030 target within this term of government, with the aim of aligning Australia’s interim ambition with our global fair share of the action needed to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Protect nature and the places we love
- Establish a national Environment Protection Authority with strong powers to ensure compliance of environmental laws.
- Expand national environmental laws to cover all activities impacting on ecosystems and biodiversity, including forestry on public lands.
- Include a greenhouse trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and retain the water trigger.
- Strengthen the EPBC Act to ensure any listed vulnerable or endangered species’ habitat is fully protected and adequately mapped.
- Sufficiently fund the EPBC compliance unit with local offices throughout the country, especially in biodiversity hot spots.
- Create and fund a national environmental data register.
- Fully fund and implement species recovery plans, with the goal of reducing the number of species and ecological communities on the threatened species list.
- Consider the EPBC nomination for the genetically significant Strzelecki koala, which is of national conservation importance as the only genetically diverse sub-population of koalas in Victoria.
- Broaden funding opportunities for community groups working on koala conservation in states outside of NSW and QLD to become eligible to access federal government funding, so they can carry out vital work to conserve local koala populations.
Prepare for climate change induced ‘UnNatural’ disasters
We know that Australia is facing ever-worsening climate change driven disasters (‘UnNatural’ disasters). These include worsening fire seasons, longer heatwaves, increased flooding, and longer droughts. Having a new national government offers huge opportunities to fine tune how we fight fires.
Latest science: longer fire seasons
Australia’s bushfire season is already a month longer than it was 40 years ago, and extreme fire weather days are up by more than 50 per cent. CSIRO scientist Pep Canadell says that these figures will increase further depending on global efforts to tackle climate change.
If warming is limited to 1.5°C – the primary target in the Paris climate pact – the fire season will grow by another 11 days. But if warming hits 4°C – at the extreme end of scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – another 36 days would be added.
Some researchers have noted that there is no longer a ‘fire season’ under current levels of warming. In some parts of the world, like California, landscape scale fires now occur year round. As was noted recently by climate scientist Kristy Dahl, “climate change has pushed a lot of these types of events into a new realm that is much more dangerous. So as we were thinking about this season, and how we’re going to respond to it, the phrase ‘danger season’ seems appropriate.”
How should Australia respond?
A key issue is having the resources to be able to fight the fires that are coming. The following are some suggestions on how Australia should be responding to longer and more intense fire seasons:
Rapid emissions reduction to reduce bushfire threat:
When it comes to the climate crisis, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Our goal, first and foremost, should be to stop contributing to worsening climate change, which is fuelling intensifying fire seasons. This means increasing our interim 2030 emissions reduction target to align with the best available climate science, and ending the development of all new fossil fuel projects.
Overall coordination and response:
- The federal government must review the Emergency Response Fund and other existing government response mechanisms to evaluate whether they are fit for purpose for intensifying climate change induced disasters, including bushfire, flooding, drought and heat waves. The review should be carried out by an independent inquiry and consult deeply with first responders and community organisations involved in disaster recovery and prevention.
- The government should review the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan, developed by the National Bushfire and Climate Summit (2020). The Summit brought together hundreds of participants to share their experiences, and to formulate recommendations to address the worsening risk of devastating bushfires fuelled by climate change.
Extra air capacity:
The Bushfire Royal Commission interim report recommends that Australia:
- Invest in a “modest, Australian-based sovereign [very large aerial tanker/large aerial tanker] capability” as the climate emergency means that northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons are running together. Australia is currently reliant on the United States for large aerial firefighting aircraft – only two large air tankers are permanently based in Australia.
The commission report also says:
- There may also be a need to explore contracting models that encourage Australian industry involvement in the development of future aerial firefighting capability.
- In order to ensure Australia’s firefighting aerial capacity capitalises on existing assets and is made up of the right mix, the Commonwealth should conduct a trial on the feasibility of retrofitting RAAF C130 aircraft with airborne fire fighting systems, to provide the Australian Defence Force with the capacity to augment aerial firefighting during major disasters.
- The Commonwealth should work with states and territories through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to review the current mix of aviation assets and determine whether it is fit-for-purpose, noting the current lack of mid-sized fire fighting aircraft.
We note that the new Emergency Services minister has already met with the AFAC to discuss requirements and look forward to the establishment of a publicly owned fleet of Large Air Tankers.
More capacity on the ground
Establish a national remote area firefighting team: As fire threatens World Heritage Areas and national parks across the country, it is time to establish a national remote area firefighting team, which is tasked with supporting crews in the states and territories.
Long fire seasons stretch local resources, and sometimes remote areas need to be abandoned in order to focus on defending human assets. Having an additional, mobile national team that could be deployed quickly to areas of greatest need would help us protect the wonderful legacy of national parks and World Heritage Areas across the country. This was recommended by a Senate inquiry after the devastating fires in Tasmania of 2016.
Support our volunteers to make their contributions sustainable: We need to prepare our emergency services - both career and volunteer - for the increasing demands of climate-driven disasters. As flooding, fires and heat waves become more common, it is clear that the load on existing volunteers is unsustainable. We will need to transform how we respond to these disasters, with potential changes to resourcing for volunteers and their employers.
First-responders are being overwhelmed by the size, intensity and frequency of unprecedented extreme weather events. It is essential that there is a review of budgets for all first responder organisations to ensure they are sufficient to the reality of the climate driven disasters of the 21st century. We should also investigate opportunities to provide financial support for volunteer firefighters who need to take extended periods of time off work in long fire seasons.
Training our firefighters for the conditions that are coming: The government needs to investigate the need for new, standardised firefighter training modules that explicitly address dynamic fire behaviours and extreme bushfire development. These types of fire behaviour will increase in prevalence, even if sufficient climate action is taken by the government.
Other gaps: These suggestions only relate to our capacity to fight fires. They do not cover land and forest management, including the issue of Cultural Burning. Additional ideas and resources can be found in Friends of the Earth Melbourne’s Fire Policy outline.
Stop the dumping of nuclear waste on Barngarla Country
Barngarla Traditional Owners are unanimous in their opposition to the Morrison government’s plan for a national nuclear waste dump near Kimba in South Australia. For the Albanese government to go ahead with the dump in those circumstances would be unconscionable. The dump proposal must be abandoned and an inquiry initiated to thoroughly assess responsible radioactive waste management options.
No nuclear-powered submarines
The Morrison government’s plan for nuclear-powered submarines fuelled by weapons-useable, highly-enriched uranium would, among other problems, set a precedent for the spread of weapons-useable fissile material and undermine global non-proliferation initiatives. The plan for nuclear-powered submarines must be scrapped.
Food and Farming
Climate change is driving increased disruption and volatility of our food systems. This is resulting in food prices soaring, which is already hitting low income communities hard. Additionally, the costs of chemical fertilisers continue to rise, which is driving farmers to utilise biological approaches to capture nitrogen. There is an urgent need for a transition to a more ecologically sound, resilient and just food and farming system.
As well as being one of the most vulnerable sectors to the impacts of climate change, our agriculture and food systems are one of the largest contributors to climate change and biodiversity loss. Australia and the world are confronting ‘a global agricultural land degradation crisis’. This crisis is undermining farmers' capacity to adapt to the climate crisis, which is already impacting negatively on farms across Australia.
‘There is now well-established and accepted analysis that the results of not making these necessary transitions are catastrophic, with long-run costs far exceeding the likely costs of taking action to avoid the worst damage.’
A growing international body of experts, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, recognise the transformative role that agroecology (regenerative-organic) farming approaches offer for achieving ecologically sound and resilient food systems.
The federal government has a crucial role to play in driving policy change to aid a sector-wide transition of agricultural practices. Existing policies and vested interests are locking in feedback loops that amplify land degradation, requiring additional inputs of pesticides and fertilisers to maintain farm profits.
Federal government policy should support and promote agroecology over industrialised agriculture systems. Examples of how this could look include:
- Mechanisms such as transition loans or grants, to enable urban and rural farmers to transition their production and materials to suit agroecological/regenerative farming. Income-contingent loans/revenue-contingent loans could be considered as an option to support farmers moving to agroecological/regenerative farming.
- Support existing, and establish new, agroecology/regenerative farming frameworks centrally in research, extension, and education programs, and support the emergence and expansion of learning networks and platforms to enable peer to peer and collective learning between communities and farmers.
- Establish national and state level food system resilience plans to ensure our food systems are more robust in the face of climatic stressors and shocks in the future.
- The rights of First Nations peoples must be embedded in food system resilience plans, and plans should recognize First Nations custodianship of biodiversity, waterways and land and the importance of their ancient agricultural and ecological knowledge.
- ‘Sustainable livelihoods should be promoted for farmers and all workers throughout the food system through initiatives to improve working conditions, support diverse career and training pathways, and support new farmers to access land, training and capital.’
- Support the expansion of community food systems, including establishing a ‘National Edible Gardening Fund’
- Implementing stronger limits on the exploitation of wild food populations, to avoid practices such as overfishing which threaten the collapse of global fish populations.
We face several interconnected threats to the quality, longevity and continuation of human life on this planet. Some of these threats, as have been detailed, include:
- Climate change and increasingly severe weather events
- Loss of biodiversity resulting in the destruction of ecosystems
- The potential for annihilation by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction
- Pollution of essential resources such as water, air and soil.
Many of these threats feed into each other. They require a long-term, whole picture, intersectional approach to address them all; not a short term approach with limited focus.
With so many of these threats already present and impacting people’s lives across the country, it is not surprising that people voted in overwhelming numbers at the 2022 election for parties and candidates with strong climate policies.
The new federal ALP government has been elected early into what is being described from many corners as a decade of transition. The scientific consensus, based on the best available climate science, is that the deepest emissions cuts and transformative processes must be made before 2030 to avoid catastrophic global warming.
The Albanese government, backed up by a host of climate-focused crossbench MPs, has a strong mandate to enact and significantly expand on its climate and environment commitments. Communities around the country will continue fighting for the urgent action we need, and enacting solutions in their local areas. They will look to this government to match their concern and desire for action, which will set the course and pace of change for the rest of the decade.
For further comment or information on these policy proposals, please contact:
Friends of the Earth campaigns coordinator