Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023

Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023

(Second Reading Debate, 29 November 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

There is urgent need to address the climate crisis. The world is on a dangerous path towards mass destruction of life as we know it. Extreme heat, sea level rises, more and more carbon dense oceans, drought and flood will affect every aspect of society, culture, environment and the economy. All things that sustain life, including agriculture, aquaculture, fresh water, clean air and homes will be severely impacted. The very survival of future generations is at risk.

The world experienced the warmest June, July, August season this year on record by a large margin, with the European summer the fifth warmest ever, record breaking high sea surface temperatures for the global ocean and marine heatwaves in several areas. Last year up to 10,000 emperor penguin chicks across four colonies in Antarctica's Bellingshausen Sea died due to melting and breaking ice beneath their breeding grounds. In the last three years New South Wales has seen devastating fires and floods. International finance and risk assessment body the Climate Risk Group has ranked New South Wales in the top 5 per cent of vulnerable States to climate change in the world. The impacts of climate change are accelerating at a much faster rate than anticipated and we are nearing the tipping point when action will become futile.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has clearly and repeatedly stressed that to prevent catastrophe every industry, every sector and every practice must rapidly decarbonise, with scientists warning the biggest, boldest cuts must happen this decade. There is no time for delays; we need to push forward with transition now. The Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023 will legislate the State's 2030 and 2050 greenhouse emission reduction targets—and following amendments in the other place yesterday, the 2035 target. It will set guiding principles for action on climate change and create a new independent Net Zero Commission to monitor the State's progress and make recommendations to achieve the targets.

Enshrining targets in law will bind us to those targets and signal to business, industry and the global community that the State is committed to moving forward. The Net Zero Commission will ensure we have a clear roadmap for achieving decarbonisation. This is important legislation and I thank the Minister for working collaboratively across the Parliament, including with an alliance of crossbenchers that I was a part of that also included the member representing the electorates of Lake Macquarie, Wagga Wagga, Wakehurst and Wollondilly and Sue Higginson from The Greens. The Government also worked closely with Emma Hurst from the Animal Justice Party and the Legalise Cannabis Party. The bill has been improved in the other place to allow for interim targets and ensure targets do not go backwards, impose a duty on the Premier and Minister to meet the net zero target, empower the net zero commission to provide advice and make submissions to the Independent Planning Commission, and make the survival of species a guiding principle of the laws. Targets should be more ambitious, to avoid leaving the heavy lifting in greenhouse gas reduction to the next generation. The target of 50 per cent reduction by 2030 is below what the State is already set to achieve from abatement under the NSW Renewable Energy Action Plan. Adoption of the 2035 target will help shift more abatement to the next decade, but stronger targets are needed.

The big test for this legislation will be how it mitigates fossil fuel emissions in the mining sector. Fossil fuels are the key drivers of climate change and have kept global emissions astronomical. While our energy supply is transitioning, coalmining continues to expand unabated. Fugitive emissions from coalmining make that the only sector in New South Wales forecasting an increase in emissions this decade, including in methane, which is the most hazardous greenhouse gas. Although expanding coalmining is irresponsible in the face of climate change, the Independent Planning Commission has been approving projects because it is bound by explicit support for coal extraction in the strategic statement on coal and the Net Zero Plan. Those flawed policies prevent truly independent determinations.

At least 10 new coal projects are currently proposed in New South Wales through the planning system. Combined, they will produce nearly two billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions—more than 14 times the State's total annual emissions. If those projects go ahead, it will be disastrous for the climate and will slow the transition of coal-dependent communities, leaving other global jurisdictions to secure dominance in green industries. I hope the bill will provide the much-needed tools to override the pro-coal approach that is constraining the planning system and refocus decisions on climate change. As clear State policy, the bill's targets, purpose and guiding principles should be considered by the Independent Planning Commission, as required by the State Environmental Planning Policy (Resources and Energy). The Independent Planning Commission should consider the bill as a State policy representing the "public interest", as required by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Furthermore, amendments in the other place will see the Net Zero Commission able to make submissions on proposed fossil fuel projects. The planning system is the gateway to emissions-intensive activity driving climate change, and we will need to monitor how successfully the bill can support climate-responsible planning determinations. The bill will help move New South Wales forward in meeting our obligations in the global effort to prevent the worst of the climate crisis, but there is more work to do. We will achieve what is needed only if we work together. I thank the Minister in the other place for showing her willingness to do that, and I acknowledge the great and hard work of her staff members, who join us in the Chamber tonight. I look forward to the establishment of and recommendations from the Net Zero Commission and to this House urgently building on that work to drive our emissions down. I commend the bill.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!