The recently revised Reef 2050 Plan places a stronger emphasis on climate change impacts on the Reef than its’ predecessor - but what’s still clearly lacking is strong climate policy for effective mitigation action at a national and state level, writes Law Reform solicitor Revel Pointon.
It is well-established: climate change is the biggest killer of our Reef.
It is also well-established that neither the state nor federal governments are taking sufficient action to prevent further greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the impacts of anthropogenic climate change; they are not taking our duty to protect the Reef seriously.
Representatives from the state and federal governments got together in late July to finalise a revision of the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan); Australia’s commitment to the international community to better manage our Reef.
If you recall, the original Reef 2050 Plan focused on improvements to water quality to build resilience of the Reef. This was an important step towards better protecting our Reef. However, as the Reef Independent Expert Panel advised back in 2017, the plan failed to provide actions to try to reduce the key threat to our Reef: the dangers of climate change.
At the time, EDO Qld agreed, and called on governments to take strong action to try to protect our Reef, particularly by moving us quickly and fairly to renewable energy and to stop approving new fossil fuel projects. Stationary energy is Queensland’s number one source of greenhouse gas emissions and Queensland remains the highest greenhouse gas emitter in Australia.
The revised Reef 2050 Plan has now been finally amended to give more attention to climate change. But what does it actually say? More importantly, what does it mean and will it be enough to protect our largest natural asset?
Revised Reef 2050 Plan
While the revised Plan does place a stronger emphasis on climate change impacts to the Reef than its’ predecessor, what’s clearly lacking is sufficiently strong climate mitigation action, particularly at a national level, to address these impacts.
More specifically, the revisions:
- acknowledge that addressing climate change and accelerating action on water quality and other pressures is critical to providing the best possible future for the Reef;
- acknowledge that the Australian Government has a domestic climate change policy ‘review and refine’ cycle within the five-yearly review process under the Paris Agreement, and that Australia will develop a long-term emissions reduction strategy by 2020; and
- provides a foundation for a comprehensive review in 2020 through the inclusion of preparatory activities, such as undertaking further research on possible trajectories for the Reef under different climate scenarios.
In reality, this equates to more promises but little actual improvement in policy that takes the necessary strong, effective action now to reduce our climate change risks to give our Reef a chance of survival.
What action is needed now?
The way to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
If our Reef is to have any chance of survival in the future, our governments need to take the fair transition away from fossil fuels seriously, which we are not seeing yet.
The most recent quarterly update of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions shows that, at a time when we have committed to reduce our emissions, we once again increased our emissions in the 2017 by 1.5 per cent on the previous year. This increase was predominantly due to the expansion in LNG exports, with an estimated production increase of 41.4 per cent over the previous year.
Federally we are woefully behind other countries in our climate change mitigation action, with continued attempts being made to weaken the already low level of action being taken, including the current work to weaken the National Energy Guarantee and support for building a tax payer funded coal fired power station.
Queensland is placing itself as a major exporter of LNG and Queensland also continues to approve significant coal mining. We also still do not have a clear path to help our state and particularly our regional areas to transition fairly and quickly away from fossil fuels.
- We desperately need to reintroduce a carbon tax to ensure that those profiting from emissions are forced to internalise the costs of those emissions.
In the face of federal inaction on climate change, the states must do all that they can to reduce our emissions:
- Since stationary energy is Queensland’s biggest emitter, we have a responsibility to be taking strong action to reduce these emissions and to stop approving and supporting fossil fuel industries.
- We need to provide an effective, clear plan to move Queensland fairly and quickly away from fossil fuels, particularly to support our regions.
- We need to commit to our climate change emissions reductions targets by legislating the targets and providing an accountable pathway to help ensure we achieve them. EDO Qld have offered a draft Qld Climate Change and Renewable Energy Bill here to stimulate discussion and action to facilitate this.
EDO Qld congratulate the Queensland Government on supporting the quick uptake of renewable energy, but this work is being undermined by further approvals and support for fossil fuel projects.
In addition to this, work to reduce the pollutants entering our Reef is important to build the resilience of our Reef so it can have a better chance of surviving the impacts of climate change. EDO Qld are working with the Queensland Government to get stronger regulation to reduce Reef water quality pollution; this work continues with a Bill expected in the coming months. We will keep you updated as to how you can help ensure that these new laws are strong enough to help protect our Reef.