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‘Just the beginning of our legal journey to tangible climate action’

Whilst the new climate change legislation is a positive step forward for the climate crisis, there are a number of other measures that need to be taken, said these lawyers. 

user iconLauren Croft 01 September 2022 Big Law
‘Just the beginning of our legal journey to tangible climate action’
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Earlier this month, the Climate Change Bill (and the Consequential Amendments Bill) passed the House of Representatives and will legislate Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to reflect the updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

The Albanese government agreed to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 (as a flood) and reduce Australia’s net greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050. The bill also requires an annual climate change statement to be tabled in Parliament that sets out the progress towards achieving the reduction targets.

In addition, the government’s updates to Australia’s contributions toward Paris Agreement targets must be informed by scientific advice given by the Climate Change Authority on how to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial limits.


Following this new development, Lawyers Weekly spoke to two law firms about what this bill means for the country moving forward, and the legal implications of it.  

According to Marque Lawyers senior associate Netta Egoz, the annual climate change statement sets out “clear performance indicators” for the government.

“It is the first time Australia has legislated a target to achieve the goals it signed up for under the Paris Agreement back in 2015. It also signals to the global community that Australia has changed its course in taking action on climate change. The legislation builds accountability to the public on policies the government has to adopt in order to achieve its greenhouse emission reduction targets. The bill also requires the government to take a science-based approach in achieving its emissions reduction goals,” she said.

“After operating largely in a policy vacuum in this area the past decade, as lawyers we can now provide our clients with more certainty and guidance on how to plan for the future. At Marque we are already working with clients who see the bill, and other recent announcements from the new government present opportunities to invest further in renewable energy and other climate solutions technology. Our clients are looking to build local manufacturing capabilities and are receiving high volumes of investment in their technologies which will enable Australia to become a renewable energy powerhouse as we move to decarbonisation, off the back of these government commitments.”

Herbert Smith Freehills partner Kathryn Pacey added that there are a number of measures in the bill that lawyers working in this space should be aware of, including reviews of the integrity of the Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs), led by Professor Ian Chubb; the Safeguard Mechanism with a view to achieving a gradual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the largest emitters; and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, where “we expect to see the cross bench push for inclusion of a greenhouse gas trigger”.

“The Consequential Amendments Bill proposes to amend a range of Commonwealth legislation in order to include the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets as part of the objectives or functions of a range of Commonwealth entities, including ARENA, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Infrastructure Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility,” she said.

“The bills are the start of a range of climate-related reviews and proposed amendments that we expect to see in the next 12 months.”

However, the bill does not provide much more detail on how these targets will be reached. In addition, Labor has refused to commit to banning any new coal and gas projects or enshrining climate impacts into the assessment and approval of new projects under national environment law.

The bill does not provide any detail on how the government is going to achieve its targets of a minimum of 43 per cent emissions reduction by 230, and net zero by 2050. Notably, the science tells us 43 per cent is not nearly enough to avert the worst effects of climate change so given the law, once in force, requires a scientific basis for the government’s future actions, as lawyers we can help push for more ambitious steps to achieve the reduce global warming targets,” Ms Egoz added.

“One high profile concession the Albanese government was unwilling to make was committing to rejecting any future coal and gas projects but we know we won’t be able to reduce our emission if we continue to open new projects.”

As such, environmental and climate change concerns will remain a “critical” issue within government, added Ms Pacey.  

“The signal in all of this for lawyers is that climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are an increasingly critical component of government decision making, and it permeates a broad range of decisions. Commonwealth entities making decisions around infrastructure projects, funding and government policy will all be increasingly required to explicitly consider how the decision impacts or contributes to achieving Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, and failure to properly and genuinely consider legislated targets will place decisions at the risk of judicial review,” she said.   

“This will require robust scientific data, modelling and evidence to support decision making processes, and require proponents, decision makers and other stakeholders to have an understanding at both a project and a system level of the impact of proposals on the achievement of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions targets.”

This follows Herbert Smith Freehills making an increased commitment to its net zero goals by becoming the first law firm to sign a virtual power purchase agreement. This will result in its Sydney office being powered entirely by wind and solar energy — making it 100 per cent run by renewable energy.

The legal profession can also keep pushing for increased action, according to Ms Egoz.

“Recently the government has shown they will block new projects on other environmental grounds, so as lawyers we can build off that to take more test cases and establish strong precedents to protect from future governments slowing down the progress,” she said.

“This bill is just the beginning of our legal journey to tangible climate action. The last election showed the Australian people care about climate change. We have another 2.5 years to show the new government that real action wins votes so as lawyers, let’s work with our clients to be more ambitious in our quest to limit global warming.”

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