The Victorian Government has made several big decisions this month, with significant consequences for how we respond to climate change. The legislative changes around fracking and conventional gas provided ‘one step forward, one step back’ while the Premier and Environment Minister’s decision on the state’s interim greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2025 and 2030 – arguably one of the most significant decisions the Andrews Government – may be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A step forward – bans on fracking and coal seam gas to be protected in the Constitution
On Tuesday 17 March 2020, the Victorian government introduced the Constitution Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2020. Its purpose is to insert the existing legislated bans on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and coal seam gas activities in the state’s constitution.
This means the ban on fracking and coal seam gas will be more difficult for a future Parliament to repeal or change because the constitutionally protected bans cannot be repealed, altered or varied unless passed by a special majority (3/5ths) of both Houses of Parliament.
We welcome these amendments and note that Victoria will be the only jurisdiction in Australia – and maybe the world – to have a constitutionally enshrined ban on fracking and coal seam gas.
A step back – onshore conventional gas exploration and production to recommence
On the same day, Tuesday 17 March 2020, the Victorian government announced its decision to lift the moratorium on onshore conventional gas from 1 July 2021, enabling onshore conventional gas exploration and production from that date.
This a retrograde step, given an accelerated switching away from gas towards low emissions electricity is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels.
In advance of the Victorian government’s change of position, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions released a series of reports detailing ‘potential for future onshore gas supply and storage’ and assessing ‘the risks, benefits and impacts associated with onshore conventional gas’.1 Troublingly, the most recent report published this month identifies the Otway Basin and Gippsland Basin as prospective areas for onshore conventional gas exploration.
Decision on interim greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2025 and 2030 due soon
Victoria’s interim greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2025 and 2030 under the Climate Change Act must be determined by the Premier and the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, the decision on targets was expected no later than 31 March, however, there now might be delays due to Covid-19. The Minister is not required to publish the interim emissions reduction targets until they are laid before Parliament which must happen within ten sitting days, currently scheduled for May and June 2020. In deciding the interim greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2025 and 2030, the Premier and Minister must consider a number of matters, including the advice of the Independent Expert Panel chaired by the Hon. Greg Combet AM.2 The Panel released its advice in March 2019, recommending interim targets of:
- 32-39% below 2005 levels in 2025
- 45-60% below 2005 in 2030
We do not support the targets proposed by the Panel. The proposed target range will not set Victoria on a path to achieve its commitments to holding the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC, as set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Panel’s own work on 1.5oC emissions budgets shows that to secure only an even chance (50% chance) of limiting warming to 1.5oC Victoria needs to adopt a target of 67% below 2005 levels in 2030.
We know that the actions taken in the coming decade will be crucial for ensuring Victorians are on an emissions reduction pathway to net zero by 2050. We have urged the Premier and Minister to adopt targets in the range of:
- 45-50% below 2005 levels in 2025
- 65-80% below 2005 in 2030
If the Victorian Government wants to be a genuine leader in climate change action, it must pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC. This means locking in strong and early emissions reductions, rather than shifting the burden to Victorians in the future.