Victoria announces target of net zero emissions by 2050

Publication June 20, 2016


Introduction

The Victorian Government has issued its formal response (Response) to the independent review of the Climate Change Act 2010 (Act), which was tabled in Parliament in February (Independent Review).

All but one of the Independent Review’s 33 recommendations have been accepted or given in principle support. The implementation of the recommendations is intended to be supported by a Victorian Climate Change Framework, which will be released in late 2016.

This legal update provides an overview of the recommendations and the proposals for implementation.

Emissions reduction target

The Independent Review’s first recommendation was for Victoria to set a long-term emissions reduction target, based on the best available science, in line with a pathway to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius (consistent with the aspirational target included in the Paris Agreement).

In conjunction with the release of the Response, the Victorian Government announced a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.  This target will be enshrined in the Act, which is likely to be amended later this year.

The amended Act will also include interim targets, the first of which will take effect in 2020 and which will be informed by a new initiative called TAKE2.  TAKE2 involves a voluntary pledge process for emission reduction actions between 2017 and 2020.  State government departments will be expected to make pledges to reduce emissions from their operations, and the State government will work with local councils to encourage them to participate in making pledges.   The community and business will also be encouraged to voluntarily make pledges. Further information about TAKE2 can be found here.

The Response states that the progress of the long-term target will be tracked against multi-year interim targets, which will be progressively lowered and set at least two interim periods in advance. A final assessment report will be prepared at the end of each interim period.

Legislative Changes

The Response commits to a raft of legislative changes.

The objectives of the Act will be strengthened and will include:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the best available science and long-term emissions reduction target;

  • Building resilience of Victoria’s infrastructure, built environment and communities through adaptation and disaster preparedness action;

  • Management of Victoria’s natural resources, ecosystems and biodiversity to promote resilience;

  • Promotion and support of Victoria’s regions to maximise the opportunities that arise from a transition to a low-carbon economy; and

  • Support of vulnerable communities and promotion of intergenerational equity and social justice.

Guiding principles will also be introduced into the Act and guidance from the Minister for Environment and Climate Change will be developed to address how the objectives and principles should be utilised across government.

The Government has agreed to a legislated five-yearly Victorian Climate Change Strategy (Strategy), the first of which will be released in 2020 (to follow on immediately from the Victorian Climate Change Framework, which will cover the period 2017-2020). The Strategy will include components for adaptation, disaster risk reduction and emissions reduction.

Schedule 1 of the Act, which sets out government decisions and actions which need to account for the potential impacts of climate change, will be reviewed and is likely to be broadened. The Response highlights the role of land use planning in climate change adaptation, and states that amendments to Schedule 1 will provide further support to planning authorities to consider climate change in decision making. Acts identified for possible inclusion in Schedule 1 include:

  • Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009

  • Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990

  • Planning and Environment Act 1987

In conjunction with work to identify what additional acts should be added to Schedule 1, consideration will be given to whether it is necessary to broaden legal standing for the judicial review of administrative decisions under Schedule 1. The one recommendation from the Independent Review which was not adopted was to introduce the right for merits review.

The Response also supports amendments being made to the Environment Protection Act 1970 (EP Act) to clarify that the Environment Protection Authority’s powers may be exercised for the purpose of achieving emission reduction targets, although it notes that any substantive changes would require a public consultation and regulatory impact assessment process. Any amendments to the EP Act will be considered in conjunction with the outcomes of the Independent EPA Inquiry, which concluded earlier this year.

Ten yearly reviews will be built into the Act, the first to take place in 2026, to ensure that the Act is achieving its stated objectives and purposes and whether additional legislative changes are warranted.

Adaptation

As stated above, adaptation and disaster risk reduction will be addressed in the Strategy, although it is noted in the Response that often adaptation planning and action is better managed at a local or regional level.

Adaptation Action Plans will be developed alongside the Strategy, with the aim of facilitating the “mainstreaming” of climate change into government department’s existing processes.

The Response also indicates that a monitoring, reporting and verification regime will be implemented to support the Adaptation Action Plans.

Other initiatives

Other policy initiatives, including Victoria’s Renewable Energy Target and Victorian Energy Efficiency scheme will also be important tools to achieve interim targets.

A fact sheet released in conjunction with the Response notes that in order to meet the long-term emissions reduction target, consideration will be given to reducing Victoria’s reliance on brown coal generated power. The Government has commenced an independent review of the coal industry to inform the development of a Coal Policy.

The Response makes it clear that the Government does not consider that the adoption of a state-based emission trading scheme is appropriate at this time, on the basis that it will not be efficient without the participation of other states.  Further consideration of this particular policy tool is likely to await the review of the Federal Government’s Safeguard Mechanism, which is due to take place in 2017.


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