Thursday, January 30, 2014

Opening Statement to Senate Inquiry on Abbott Government's Direct Action Plan



Reverend Evan Pederick, representing the Anglican EcoCare Commission.  Senators, thank you for receiving our submission and for this opportunity to address its content.  My colleague, Bishop Tom Wilmot, chairs Anglican EcoCare, and our submission was prepared by myself in my capacity as deputy chair.
Anglican EcoCare was established as a standing commission of the Diocese of Perth in 2006, with a particular brief to pursue the final point in the mission statement of the global Anglican Communion adopted by this Diocese – “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the Earth”.  EcoCare was charged with pursuing this goal both within the internal life of the Church, through education and the provision of resources to parishes and agencies, and externally by creating links with educational institutions, commerce and industry regarding environmental matters, and participating in public debate as a ‘prophetic voice’ on matters of faith and the environment.[1] 
With the establishment of Anglican EcoCare, and by resolutions at the national level through General Synod, the Anglican Church of Australia has committed itself to the recognition of a fundamental link between the Christian faith and the protection of creation.  In the language of Franciscan spirituality we assert that the Earth and all its living systems are unique creative expressions or Words of God, and reflect through the autonomy of their own being the beauty of their Creator.  This means that the resources and the living systems of the Earth are not commodities to be exploited, but have value and integrity both in and for themselves, and as the living context of human communities.  Indeed the Old Testament offers as God’s vision for the Earth a reconciled creation in which the role of human beings is to serve and to protect.[2]  We assert also the continuity between care and respect for the living systems of our planet, and justice for the poorest human communities; as inevitably the destruction of habitat, the loss of species and the degradation of living systems of water, air and earth affect most severely and swiftly human communities with the least ability to mitigate their impact.
We are encouraged by the statement made in the introduction (p.8) of the Green Paper on the Emissions Reduction Fund that the Government “acknowledges the science of climate change and supports national and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.[3]  The Government affirms the existing commitment to a reduction of Australia’s emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, and commits itself to appropriate action with a review in 2015.  However we believe the Government’s own Direct Action Plan will not achieve even the existing targets, and in our submission we have noted evidence that much higher targets need to be met if we are to avoid the tipping point of greater than two degrees rise in average global temperatures.
The Green Paper reveals some elephants hiding in the room of the Government’s Direct Action Plan, acknowledging for example that emissions growth to 2020 will be dominated by direct combustion and fugitive emissions with the main driver of growth being the projected expansion of Australian coal production (p.11).  The reality is that Australia’s contribution to greenhouse gases and climate change through both domestic consumption and export of coal far outweighs the undeniable progress in reducing emissions in other areas.  The Australian National Greenhouse Accounts published in Dec 2012 note that overall emissions increased in the December quarter due to fugitive emissions and direct combustion - excluding the electricity sector which was covered by the existing carbon pollution reduction legislation and recorded a decline.[4]  Despite acknowledging at the outset the central difficulty of our continued reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, the Green Paper thereafter makes no further mention of this issue.
The apparently laudable goal of picking the low-hanging fruit by purchasing emissions reductions projects proposed by industry at the lowest possible prices (Green Paper, p.18) has three major flaws.  Firstly, it is an opt-in process. There is no compulsion on businesses to compete for participation in ERF projects, and no penalty for those who choose not to.  The likelihood is that the Government will pay for quick wins such as carbon farming or sequestration projects and attempt to offset these gains against a perversely subsidised coal industry that remains outside the camp and continues its unsustainable and growing level of emissions.  This deal basically avoids making the structural changes that the Australian economy requires.  Secondly, there are no effective compliance mechanisms for businesses that commit themselves to ERF projects but fail to achieve the promised reductions.  Thirdly, the model explicitly eschews support for emerging technologies in the renewables sector (p.18).
We note that modelling by various agencies including Treasury and the Climate Institute has concluded the $2.6bn over 4 years currently committed to the ERF is unlikely to achieve the stated objective of 5% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020, yet the Government has pre-emptively ruled out any additional funding.  The most likely outcome in this case is simply that emissions will further increase. 
We submit therefore that the Government’s Direct Action Plan is a step backwards.  The existing carbon pollution legislation, which already has contributed to reductions in the areas it covers, should be retained and further strengthened to include all sectors of the Australian economy.


[1] Anglican EcoCare Statute 2006, clause 3.
[2] Gen 2 cf Isa 11
[3] Emissions Reduction Fund Green Paper, Commonwealth of Australia 2013
[4] Australian National Greenhouse Accounts, Commonwealth of Australia 2013 (see Overview, p.2)

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