NSWCCL at House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy hearing, Climate Change Bill 2020

On 1st February 2021, NSWCCL Vice-President and Convenor of the Civil and Human Rights Action Group, Jared Wilk, appeared at the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy hearing on the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 and Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2020.

Here is NSWCCL's Opening Statement:

Good afternoon Chair, and members of the Committee. NSWCCL thanks the Committee for the invitation to appear today. I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which I appear and pay my respects to the Elders both past and present.

The NSWCCL is a non-partisan, member based civil liberties and human rights organisation of long standing in NSW, founded in 1963. Since 2019, NSWCCL has resolved to play our part in the fight for climate justice. We recognise that anthropogenic climate change is a crucial civil liberties and human rights issue; an emergency that is curtailing the enjoyment of our rights today. This was starkly demonstrated by the 2019-20 bushfire season and has been repeatedly underscored by the expert Committees responsible for administering the key UN Human Rights Treaties. Warming beyond the level countenanced by the Paris Agreement – that is, preferably under 1.5 degrees, or a maximum of 2 degrees relative to pre-industrial levels – is likely to seriously infringe the fundamental rights of Australians, including, inter alia, the rights to life, property, enjoyment of culture, privacy, physical and mental health, and an adequate standard of living.

In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius concluded that human carbon dioxide emissions were substantial enough to cause climactic warming. An ExxonMobil scientist named James Black wrote an internal document in 1977 identifying a ‘general scientific agreement’ that humans are influencing the climate through carbon dioxide emissions. He wrote that humanity had a five to ten-year window until hard decisions need be taken. Yet in 2021, Australia still does not have a long-term emissions target consistent with real action on climate change and Australia’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement.

NSWCCL considers that the Bill in question would greatly assist the federal government in planning and coordinating mitigation and adaptation efforts in relation to climate change.

The Prime Minister was quoted, on January 23 of this year, as insisting that “you don’t get there [to net zero] by just having some commitment.” Unfortunately, this statement is both self-evident, and, as a repudiation of a statutory emissions reduction target, a non-sequitur. It does not follow from the fact that you don’t get there just with a target that no target should exist. Without a legislated commitment to reduce carbon emissions, the community lacks certainty and direction. The Bill under consideration is a structural reform, about fostering the policy stability and predictability to enable the investment which will bring about the possibility of zero net emissions. Stability and predictability are engendered not just by the 2050 target, but also the cyclical risk assessments, adaptation plans, emissions budgets and emissions reduction plans. Statutory obligations ensure that the government is accountable to the Parliament and the people. Statutory obligations signal that, while the Executive should still maintain flexibility in formulating and implementing climate policy, its discretion on a matter of such enormous consequence and with such a lengthy time horizon (well beyond the electoral cycle) must be controlled by Parliament, such that Executive actions are ultimately appropriate and adapted to reaching the Paris targets. The science-based advice and assessment of the new Climate Change Commission, at every stage in the statutory process, will prove indispensable to the achievement of high-quality policy and implementation. Importantly, the Bills will embed climate change considerations into federal government decision making and provide for some mandatory considerations and duties which may open inadequate and unlawful decision-making to judicial review, helping to ensure that Australia stays on track with respect to emissions reductions.

NSWCCL notes that multiple jurisdictions, including the UK, New Zealand, Sweden and Victoria have enacted similar legislation. From our research, it appears that the results in the UK, the first jurisdiction to have done so, have been positive. 

We do have some concerns about the Bill as drafted, of which I am happy to say more. Having now had the benefit of reading other submissions, we share some of their additional concerns as well, mostly relating to drafting issues and strengthening some elements of the Bill. However, for the reasons just mentioned, NSWCCL commends the Bill. 

More: Read the full NSWCCL submission.