Safeguard mechanism in parliament: a key moment to Vote Earth Now

Image: Safeguard mechanism campaign by Solutions for climate Australia

1. What is it? 2. What does it mean and what is happening in parliament? 3. Ring your MP!

The Safeguard Mechanism’s primary purpose is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our largest emitters. Around half of these are fossil fuel companies.

This is a cornerstone policy for the Federal Government to reach its 43% by 2030 emissions reduction target and asks big polluters like SANTOS and Woodside to cut emissions by 4.9% per year until 2030.

But there are significant loopholes in the current draft proposal. Rather than making genuine emission reductions, polluters will be able to buy their way out with carbon offsets and it allows new coal and gas which can only drive emissions up.

To protect our health and safeguard our climate we must advocate for policy that means genuine emission reductions and no new coal and gas.

In outrageous news, last week Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek approved 171 new fracking wells in Queensland for Santos and Arrow Energy.1,2 And Chris Bowen is refusing to rule out new coal and gas as part of updating the Abbott-era Safeguard Mechanism that is meant to reduce emissions.3

This from a government who were elected with a mandate to act on climate with the urgency it deserves.

There are 114 other coal and gas projects in the pipeline that we simply cannot allow to go ahead4, but right now, the Albanese government is taking advice from fossil fuel corporations, rather than listening to the Australian public, Pacific leaders, and climate science.

For too long, conservative governments have sided with the fossil fuel lobby, holding back action on climate change and encouraging the expansion of this dangerous industry. Now we have a new government, but they’re clearly still beholden to the fossil fuel lobby.


[1] Queensland govt’s gas well approvals slammed by activists, Brisbane Times

[2] Santos’ wins fracking approval for Towrie gas development from Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, Michael West News

[3] Chris Bowen Interview with David Speers, ABC Insiders transcript

[4] New fossil fuel projects do have massive emissions potential if built, AAP

Australian Conservation Foundation:

Direct (scope 1) emissions from the oil and gas sector – mostly from facilities that are covered by the safeguard mechanism – have increased by 7.8% in the latest reporting period, according to new data from the Clean Energy Regulator.

Chevron’s emissions are up by 25% and Shell’s are up by 23% – much higher emissions growth than the rest of the oil and gas sector.

Much of the growth in emissions from oil and gas facilities is due to methane venting from increased production.

“Climate pollution from Australia’s biggest polluters remains stubbornly high, while increases in fossil gas mining are mostly cancelling out the reduction in emissions from the phenomenal growth in renewable energy over the past three years,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s corporate campaigner Jonathan Moylan.

“Methane from oil and gas facilities is a big climate problem as methane is more than 80 times more damaging to the atmosphere over 20 years than carbon dioxide.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty about the accuracy of methane emissions data because companies often rely on estimates rather than direct measurement.

“This new information underscores why any new entrants to the safeguard mechanism must enter the system at net zero having purchased safeguard mechanism carbon credits and not have access to dodgy offsets.”

Opinion: A society devoted to increasing production faces some tough choices as the mercury keeps rising

Alan Kohler in The New Daily

The argument between Labor and the Greens about new gas projects is strange and pointless. New projects must be included in the government’s emissions reduction target, which doesn’t change.

But it’s true that new mining and industrial projects of almost any sort will make it harder, and new fossil fuels will mean achieving that target goes from being almost impossible to impossible.

None of what the government has said about Australia’s latest plan to reduce emissions, or the media coverage of it, has properly conveyed its difficulty.

The politics has been all about the wonderful opportunity of the green energy economy, and how Australia is going to be a big winner.

This is mostly flim-flam, and sets the country up for a nasty shock.

Sure there will be opportunities – mainly digging up and shipping the lithium, copper and nickel needed for batteries, but we can’t make batteries here because of the carbon emissions that would cause, taking us over our limit.

But as hard as the emissions reduction task is going to be, it will have to be done. There is no choice, and it would be helpful if the government told the truth about it.

The plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent from Australia’s 2005 level by 2030, and to net zero by 2050.

A dynamic threat to the planet on many fronts, climate change is responsible for droughts as well as floods. Photo: TND

That was an exercise in split-the-difference back-engineering: 43 per cent was roughly halfway between the Coalition’s 28 per cent target and the Green’s 75 per cent, so they started with that number and worked backwards. Spreadsheet jockeys were paid to assure them, and us, that it could be done, no problem, which they duly did.

There’s no mention of “apart from new gas projects” in the fine print. It’s unconditional, and it looks like an election promise that can’t be broken … unlike those about taxes.

Much of the work of emissions reduction has to be done by the 215 firms that each belch more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere and are responsible for 28 per cent of Australia’s emissions. They have to cut their total emissions by about a third over seven years, from this year’s estimated 143 million tonnes to 100 million.

Much of the work of emissions reduction has to be done by the 215 firms that each belch more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere and are responsible for 28 per cent of Australia’s emissions.

Sitting comfortably atop that list of very anxious big emitters is Woodside’s North West Shelf gas project, at 6.78 million tonnes last year. The company’s huge, lucrative Scarborough project is due to come onstream in 2026. and Woodside has said its emissions will be 880 million tonnes over 30 years, or about 30 million a year, on average.

All going well, and assuming no other new projects, that 4.9 per cent a year legislated requirement will have reduced the emissions of the 215 to 117 million tonnes by 2026. But suddenly, thanks to Woodside and Scarborough, emissions are back to something like 147 million tonnes – and now with only four years to go!

That presumably means the task – for everyone – in the last four years between 2026 and 2030 is a 9 per cent reduction per year, not 4.9 per cent, which is hard enough.

Pressure to reduce production

It’s actually amazing that the other 214 big emitters haven’t already marched on Canberra to support the Greens’ demand for no new projects, although they’re probably more worried about their own gas supplies.

Commonwealth Bank commodities analyst Vivek Dhar has figured out that the businesses covered by the safeguard mechanism will need to reducetheir production by an average of 0.3 per cent a year to meet the 4.9 per cent a year reduction.

climate coal
As Australia strives to reduce its carbon footprint, our coal is being burned in China and elsewhere. Photo: AAP

Considering that executives are paid bonuses to increase production and launch new projects to satisfy shareholders, that is going to require a very big and unlikely change in corporate culture and remuneration.

It results from the collective need, if they don’t reduce production, also calculated by Vivek Dhar, to reduce emissions intensity – that is, carbon dioxide per unit of production – by 35 per cent by 2030.

The National Electricity Market (NEM) is an example of what can be done on this score. Thanks to a huge increase in renewable power generation, the NEM has cut its emissions intensity in the seven years from 2014 to 2021 – by 24 per cent.

So the 215 largest Australian emitters are being asked to do almost 50 per cent better than the NEM has done with all the renewable electricity that’s been added to its grid.

They won’t cut production and can’t cut emissions intensity that much, so they’ll buy lots of offsets to obey the law, or Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) that are generated by planting trees or not cutting them down.

Anticipating massive demand for ACCUs leading to a brutal carbon tax, the government has said that the price will be capped at $75 a tonne and then increased by CPI plus 2 per cent per year after that.

But that’s not quite true. That’s just the price at which government itself will trade them, as buyer and seller of last resort. Others can buy and sell them for whatever price they want.

Trees, millions of trees

And if the non-government market price goes above $75, no one will want to sell to the government at $75. So how will Energy Minister Chris Bowen get hold of enough to satisfy what is likely to be enormous demand for cheap government ACCUs?

That’s not explained, but it looks like Mr Bowen will have to create them, like the Reserve Bank prints money, by planting trees! Presumably we’ll see harried public servants driving around in utes packed with seedlings and spades, planting trees on every spare bit of dirt they can find.

Without government forests springing up everywhere, it’s likely that two things will happen:

  • Companies in the safeguard mechanism will be forced to choose between cutting their production and losing market share to imports from countries with less rigorous climate change policies, or increasing their costs and prices by buying ACCUs
  • The non-government price of ACCUs will go very high indeed, which will be a new cost to businesses in the safeguard mechanism, or those that have voluntary committed to net zero by 2050 themselves, and have said they won’t engage in “greenwashing” by buying cheap, dodgy offsets from overseas.

Normally I’d say that when this rubber hits the road in five years’ time, and everyone realises how hard and expensive the carbon abatement task actually is, politicians will run a mile and the country will go off the whole idea and exhume Tony Abbott to repeal Labor’s legislation again.

Except that it can’t and won’t be abandoned because in five years’ time, weather extremes and disasters will be much worse than they are now, and the looming catastrophe of two to three degrees of warming will be evident. The pressure to stop climate change will be inescapable.

Australia, and specifically the 215 hapless big emitters, will have to do the impossible, and the Prime Minister needs to start telling them and us that yesterday.

Opinion: Elders standing up for the young

The world is “on the precipice of irreversible, catastrophic climate change”, over 100 leading Australians, mostly scientists, said in full-page newspaper ads last week. Unfortunately the lever-pullers of government and commerce don’t appear to understand.

Some political and industry leaders must take more blame than others for our awful predicament. But all are to some extent puppets in a self-perpetuating system that understands only one thing: growth and more growth fuelled by gas, oil and coal.

In fact, stopping what they (and we) are doing and starting afresh on a whole new course is a hard ask of anyone in their middle years focusing on looking after growing families. Which leaves those yet to enter the workforce and those who have left it.

Many young people seeking a low-carbon future for themselves are already speaking out, notably through the global school strike for climate movement. Last week I looked at how the young might be further empowered if they were able to vote. The trigger for this was a pair of passionate Launceston men at my end of the age spectrum.

Steve Biddulph is known to millions around the world for his best-selling books about nurturing young people, who he feels are being betrayed by a retirement culture of leisure activities like golf and ocean cruising: “I feel horror and grief at the world we are handing on to them.”

Biddulph points to global studies showing that the climate is a significant factor in poor youth mental health. Allowing 16-year-olds to vote would be a message to all children that their country wants their active participation “sooner, not later”.

“People argue about maturity,” he says. “But maturity means above all putting the future ahead of the present and thinking not only of yourself. Young people pass that test. We have failed it.”

Jeff McKinnon, a retired Baptist minister, had a troubled childhood and had to learn parenting from scratch. “No matter how old my kids are I am always their parent. I deeply want, as best as I can, to leave them a great future just as I was afforded.”

Baby Boomers may be judged by history as complicit in “the great climate crime”, he says. Collectively we have focused too much on our own security, comfort and entertainment and left it to others to determine the world left for our children.”

McKinnon, too, feels grief at the failure of many older Australians – especially those in leadership positions – to appreciate the urgency of the climate crisis. In recent years he has expressed that grief through civil disobedience as a member of Extinction Rebellion – “a rebellion against extinction” – sitting in roads and other busy places to draw attention to a life-threatening crisis. Last week he was arrested for the fifth time.

Now he is joining with Biddulph to start a movement they are calling Standing Up for the Young, or SUFTY, seeking a global network of people over 50 with the goal of securing a 16-year voting age everywhere in the world.

“Older people are desperate to see climate change solved, and find ways to help the young survive after we are gone,” says Biddulph. Tapping into a growing sense among older Australians that dangerous climate change overshadows all other future issues, this month he and McKinnon will open a website which aims to get 10,000 older people joined up.

Biddulph says “serious resources” are going into bringing together older people who care about the young, in a two-pronged process – getting the idea out to millions that a youth vote is both just and right, and creating branches for supporters in every Australian electorate to make it happen here.

This week the Albanese government embarks on its signature legislation to make our country’s big emitters reduce the carbon they put into the air. It is an important step along Australia’s rocky climate road, but its effectiveness is compromised by deeply problematic offsetting provisions and undermined by hugely resourced lobbying for big new coal and gas projects from Bass Strait right across the continent to northern lands and waters.

We should all heed young people who have grasped the gravity of our situation. But people my age are able to remember many decades of weather and climate. We know in our hearts – as science has shown in the data – that the disastrous weather events of recent years are not what we grew up with.

This is no time for older Australians to retire to the shadows while younger minds and bodies take over. It is our fight too. We need to stand up and make ourselves heard.

Opinion: With the Greens having shown a willingness to compromise, a failed climate bill will be on the government


Give and take in The Monthly

By Rachel Withers

Things are about to get very messy on the safeguard mechanism front, after the Greens offered a dissenting opinion on the Senate committee review, arguing that it needs to be amended to ensure no new coal or gas projects are opened. Speaking to reporters yesterday, leader Adam Bandt said that the government would “need to shift a bit if they want to get legislation through the Senate”, but on 7.30 he confirmed that the Greens’ position was not a “red line”. The minor party intends to move a Senate motion compelling the government to release its modelling, which it has previously declined to do, citing the public interest. And the Greens expect to have Coalition support on this (oh, the irony), setting up an awkward situation. Labor has begun hitting back, with everyone from Anthony Albanese to Chris Bowen to Jenny McAllister arguing that those who oppose the bill are standing against climate action, as if the legislation cannot possibly be amended. Why is it yet again on the Greens to compromise, when it’s Labor’s bill that experts agree is fundamentally flawed?

We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors here – although Climate Change and Energy Minister Bowen insists that his private position is the same as his public one – but it seems that Labor is unwilling to budge. Speaking on RN Breakfast this morning, Bowen dismissed the Greens’ demand for no new coal and gas as “a slogan, not a policy” (someone tell that to the global scientific community), adding that it would be “irresponsible” to have a blanket ban on new projects (ditto). Asked what he would be willing to “give” in negotiations, Bowen insisted that Labor had a clear mandate and said that the Greens were right not be making ultimatums. (Nine’s David Crowe followed Bowen on RN, telling host Patricia Karvelas that Labor had already “given” by putting forward legislation, “giving” parliament the chance to put into place a mechanism to drive down emissions. How benevolent.) “The opportunity before the parliament over the coming weeks is either to seize the opportunity to reduce emissions by 205 million tonnes or to squander it,” Bowen said. “I’m confident that the parliament will seize that opportunity, because the stakes are too high.” But how high can those stakes be if Labor is willing to squander the chance to reduce emissions in line with what the science demands?

That’s the thing about this debate. While neither have a Senate majority, the Greens – as people who care about climate action – are apparently expected to take what they can get in this space, while Labor is seemingly not expected to give at all. The “choice” for the minor party is Labor’s way or bust – this exact policy or “business as usual” – as if there are no other options. Over the years, Labor has worked hard to spin the 2009 debacle over the failed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme as a Greens blunder (never mind that, as journalist and researcher Ben Eltham notes, the Greens had a huge swing towards them in the 2010 election), rather than as a giant miscalculation on Labor’s part. The Albanese government used this as a bludgeon to get its way on the 43 per cent emissions-reduction target, demanding that the minor party accept the inadequate target or cop the blame. It now insists that it has a safeguard mandate that the Greens must respect, even though the policy is full of holes, and may not even do what it is meant to do. As former editor of The MonthlyNick Feik tweeted, at no point in today’s arguments did Labor invoke science or the future of humanity. What Labor is dismissing as merely a “slogan” is, in fact, the scientific consensus.

It’s still unclear where all of this will land. Will the government be willing to address any of the concerns of the Greens or key independent David Pocock, not to mention those of the teals, with Goldstein MP Zoe Daniel moving amendments to demand integrity for carbon credits? Are the Greens going to cave once more, letting inadequate policy win out over the bare minimum needed to avoid catastrophic warming? One thing is for certain, however: Australia voted for climate action. And it will be on the head of the “self-righteous” government if we don’t get it, having failed to pass a climate bill through the most progressive Senate we have seen in years.


If you can: ring your MP!

Australian Parents for Climate Action: The busy parent’s guide to contacting your MP

Contacting your MP this week is a high-impact way to demonstrate local community backing for them to step up and push for a Safeguard Mechanism that delivers real cuts in emissions.

It takes 3 minutes (see the guide below).

It’s a polite and normal exchange (usually with electorate office staff).

And it could help secure a safer climate.

We can’t waste this urgent opportunity to protect the future for our children and reduce the burden on other Australians to clean up the mess made by the biggest polluters. Our kids are counting on us.

Step 1

Find your federal Member of Parliament’s contact details here.

Step 2

Give them a call. A phone call is the most impactful way to get their attention. If you don’t get through, try an email to let them know you called.

Step 3

Share your concerns. The most important message you can deliver is that you are someone who cares about the children in your life and you want the federal government to put their safe climate future ahead of polluter profits.

If you want to say more, here’s a list of asks proposed by the amazing volunteer policy team at Australian Parents for Climate Action:

  1. No new, or expanded, or extended fossil fuel project approvals should be allowed under the Safeguard mechanism. There is zero justification on the grounds of energy security given 80% of our energy is exported and existing approvals run for decades.
  2. A hard floor on the emissions reduction budget must be set. Government must negotiate with current and prospective SGM facilities to ensure the overall reduction target (of a minimum 205Mt by 2030).
  3. A progressive reduction on the use of external offsets (or ACCUs) to ensure facilities implement genuine emissions reduction on site.
  4. There should be no price cap or public funding to cover excess costs for unreliable offsets (or ACCUs).

Step 4

Please share how it went. Take 1 minute to tell us about your experience. This will help us follow up and track progress with your MP.

That’s it – if you got this far, you’re a climate hero!

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