Labor and Greens switch climate fight to future of coal and gas

Labor and Greens switch climate fight to future of coal and gas

Labor and the Greens are on a collision course on the future of coal and gas, despite a historic agreement on laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions, setting up a new clash over urgent reforms to existing laws protecting the environment.

At a press conference shortly after Labor’s historic Climate Change Bill passed the lower house 89 votes to 55, Greens leader Adam Bandt lashed the Albanese government’s 43 per cent emissions reduction target as weak.

The Greens are demanding Labor insert a so-called “climate trigger” in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This trigger would require all fossil fuel projects to be assessed on their contribution to global warming, likely blocking approvals for new coal and gas developments.

Greens leader Adam Bandt speaks during the debate over amendments to the government’s climate change bill.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“You can’t put the fire out if you’re pouring petrol on it, you can’t fix the problem if you’re making the problem worse,” Bandt said on Thursday.

Labor has already pledged to strengthen the protection laws, following a damning State of the Environment report released last month but is unlikely to agree to the Greens’ demands.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday ruled out considering any of the Greens’ demands “with regard to the EPBC act”, and has insisted his government would approve new coal and gas projects if the environmental and economic assessments stacked up.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek on Thursday announced her plan to block Clive Palmer’s Central Queensland Coal project, located north of Rockhampton in the Great Barrier Reef catchment, subject to public consultation.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the climate bill “records the Government’s ambition to take the country forward on climate action”. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The Greens, whose 12 votes are needed to pass laws in the Senate, are also demanding Labor beef up its safeguard mechanism policy, that would determine pollution caps on 215 of the country’s current biggest greenhouse emitters.

At his press conference, Bandt said: “the fight now turns to not only ensuring the safeguard mechanism that safeguards our future, but we get a climate trigger in our environment laws, so new projects don’t go ahead if they’re going to make the climate crisis worse and destroy our environment”.

Labor will also need one more vote from the senate crossbench, which is most likely to come from ACT Senator David Pocock or the two Jacqui Lambie Network senators, though these assurances have not been secured.

Before the bill is voted on by the Senate in September, it will be examined by an inquiry that will report back by the end of August.

Bandt said the Senate inquiry would allow a “rigorous examination of the 114 new coal and gas projects on the books because they, if they proceed, they will blow Labor’s weak targets”.

“Even one of those projects, the Beetaloo Basin [gas project in the Northern Territory], would lift
Australia’s annual greenhouse emissions by up to 13 per cent,” he said.

Only a handful of the 114 proposed projects registered with the federal government are commercially viable and would be developed by industry.

Bandt also vowed the Greens would go through the budget line by line to ensure that no public money is being spent to support coal and gas projects, as revealed by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age two weeks ago.

The lower house on Thursday backed four amendments put by independent MPs Kate Chaney, Zoe Daniel, Helen Haines and Zali Steggall that strengthened the climate target bill.

Moves by the Greens and independent Andrew Wilkie to set the target at 75 per cent by 2030 failed and Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to back the bill.

Albanese hailed the bill as a chance to end the so-called “climate wars” and said the successful vote was an “important step forward” for the country.

He condemned the federal opposition for not supporting the legislation because the “so-called party of private enterprise has today thumbed its nose at the business community of Australia who are crying out for certainty”.

“This bill records the Government’s ambition to take the country forward on climate action – and it reflects our determination to bring people with us,” Albanese said.

“It will help open the way for new jobs, new industries, new technologies and a new era of prosperity for Australian manufacturing.”

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the looming legislation “starts a new era of climate and energy certainty” that would see government, business and the community pulling together.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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