The chief New South Wales environmental regulator says it will work hand-in-hand with businesses across the state to help cut their emissions to meet near and longer-term reduction targets under a carbon crackdown that could become a template Australia-wide.
The NSW Environmental Protection Authority unveiled its Climate Change Policy and Action Plan on Friday, which includes a sector-by-sector approach to help NSW achieve a targeted 70 per cent cut in emissions over the next 12 years and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
NSW EPA Chief Executive Tony Chappel says the plan is structured to serve as a roadmap for how the EPA will address the causes and consequences of climate change going forward.
“This plan means for the first time in Australia there will be a comprehensive approach around emissions reduction pathways,” Chappel said.
A key plank of the plan is the EPA’s decision to classify greenhouse gas emissions as pollutants.
“Using our robust framework, we will treat greenhouse gas emissions like any other pollutant that we regulate, and by doing so support the decarbonisation, transformation and growth of the NSW economy,” Chappel says.
The success of the plan, according to Chappel, will be a “collaborative, staged and systematic approach” to ensure actions are evidence-based and that government progams, including the Treasury and Department of Primary Industries, are joined up. Electricity and transportation industries are also being assessed closely.
“We want to see industries invest in the new carbon-free economy… and capitalise on Australia’s natural advantages,” Chappel said.
As reported by RenewEconony, the EPA developed a draft of the proposal last year after the group Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action (BSCA) took legal action arguing the EPA had a duty to regulate CO2 as a safeguard against effects of climate change.
The Land and Environment Court agreed and in September 2021 ordered the EPA to develop safeguarding policies and procedures.
BSCA spokeswoman Fiona Lee, who lost her home to the “Black summer fires in 2019, on Friday said the EPA plan marked a first step, but that more work was needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over this decade.
“For example, the roll out of legally enforceable emissions reductions targets should occur faster than is required under the current plan,” Lee said.
The EPA will now move to establish advisory groups for various industry sectors to jointly design actions and subsequent targets.
In the energy sector, the EPA is also regulating that newly-built power generation in the state to be net-zero by 2035.
Small-scale farming is one sector where the EPA will seek to work with closely, according to Chappel.
To help ensure a successful outcome, the EPA also will avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping businesses meet targets because of varying circumstances sector by sector.
“Our focus is on enabling and supporting best practice and building collaborative processes which ensure any actions taken by the EPA are meaningful, feasible and cost effective,” Chappel said.
He predicted the plan would also help NSW capture “immense opportunities that come with a net zero economy.”
These include growth in hydrogen, production of green steel and metals, green ammonia, regenerative agriculture and a circular economy.
The peak body representing fossil fuel generators, the Australian Energy Council, warned the EPA initiative marks “uncharted territory” that will need to be “carefully navigated”.
“Best practice is to reduce carbon emissions through nationally consistent economy-wide policy,” said AEC CEO Sarah McNamara, who as a former energy advisor to then prime minister Tony Abbott played a key role in trashing the economy-wide carbon price.
“Having a state-based regulator setting carbon targets is not ideal as it risks duplicating existing national decarbonisation policies and initiatives,” she added.
However, Sue Higginson, a Greens MP and former CEO of the Environment Defenders Office, said while the move by the EPA is “well overdue”, it lacks the regulation and compliance powers required to get the worst carbon polluters brought under control.
“This will mean that the worst polluters in the state will still only be under voluntary requirements to pursue reductions of their deadly carbon pollution,” she said.
“Voluntary reductions are a high-risk strategy when we consider the cost that climate change is already having, let alone the catastrophic future that fossil fuels are creating.
“Coal and gas companies cannot be trusted to voluntarily pursue low emission profits and communities will continue to pay the price through climate induced extreme weather events.”
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