Five Takeaways from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)

The Environment and Sustainable Development 5 Minute Fix is a snapshot of need-to-know news on a range of ESD issues nationally. This edition focuses on the latest in climate change, waste, energy, sustainable development, planning and environmental protection.

Climate change

Commonwealth: New biomethane and end-of-life tyres fuel types included in NGER reporting

Simultaneous amendments have been made to the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Regulations 2008 and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (Measurement) Determination 2008 (the Measurement Determination) to allow NGER company reports to better reflect reduced emissions from consumption of natural gas with a blended biomethane component, and from the use of end-of-life tyres as fuel.

Updates to the Measurement Determination have also been made to:

  • make other minor updates to provisions for reporting emissions from:
    • leakages in natural gas distribution networks;
    • losses of HFCs and SF6; and
    • decommissioned underground coal mines; and
  • update the methodology used to calculate electricity-use ‘Scope 2’ emission (ie those arising from consuming grid electricity) to reflect recent deployment of renewable generation sources in a more timely way.

The changes took effect on 1 July 2022 and will affect reports due by 31 October 2023 for the 2022-23 NGER reporting year.

QLD: Low emissions pathway for agribusiness sector out for public comment

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has partnered with key agricultural stakeholder groups to prepare the draft Low Emissions Agriculture Roadmap for 2022-2032 which sets out the pathway to help the agribusiness sector become a world-leader in low carbon production.

The draft Roadmap contains five focus areas:

  1. livestock emissions;
  2. cropping and horticulture emissions;
  3. on-farm energy opportunities;
  4. carbon farming and land management; and
  5. regions and supply chains.

Once finalised, the purpose of the Roadmap is to help the agribusiness section reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the ultimate goal of a net zero emissions economy by 2050 by driving:

  • research, development and adoption of low emissions production systems;
  • support for agribusinesses along the supply chain to make climate-informed business decisions through education, training and skills; and
  • integrated actions across government to support interrelated climate action initiatives.

Feedback on the draft Roadmap can be provided on or before 9 August 2022 here.

NSW: New Climate Change Adaptation Strategy released

The NSW Government has released its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, building on its existing suite of climate change policies (including the Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030). The Strategy is aimed at readying the whole of NSW (its people, economy, and natural and built environments) for the effects of climate change and is built on four key priorities:

  1. Developing empirical-based climate change risk metrics and information;
  2. Undertaking climate change risk and opportunity assessments;
  3. Developing and implementing adaptation action plans; and
  4. Embedding climate change adaptation across NSW Government decision-making.

These priorities are informed by objectives and principles to guide climate change adaptation decision-making. The NSW Treasury’s Office of Energy and Climate Change will be responsible for delivering and reviewing the Strategy on behalf of the NSW Government.

SA: South Australia to enshrine climate change targets into law (take two)

The South Australian Government has reintroduced the renamed Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction (Targets) Amendment Bill 2022. The Amendment Bill, which was originally introduced late last year, seeks to update the ambitious emissions reduction and renewable electricity targets currently contained in the Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Act 2007.

If passed, the Amendment Bill will enshrine the Government’s policy targets for net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 31 December 2050 (principal target), 50% reduction of net GHG emissions below 2005 levels by 31 December 2030 (interim target) and to achieve 100% renewable electricity generation by 31 December 2030.

WA: Limits on climate change expert evidence in judicial review

Western Australia’s Conservation Council commenced proceedings in the WA Supreme Court over the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s decision to a grant works approval for the construction of a second LNG train at Woodside’s Pluto project. As part of the proceedings, the Council filed an application for leave to adduce expert evidence from two climate scientist professors to augment widely available scientific information. The Department and Woodside (as a party to the proceedings) objected to the expert witnesses, arguing their evidence was irrelevant to the dispute.

Justice Hill found that for the purpose of judicial review, expert evidence can be admissible to:

  • assist the court to interpret specialised language and technical terms in legislation; and
  • if the basis of the claim is that there was expert knowledge the Department should have been aware of, but did not take into account;

but it is not admissible to provide the context in which a decision is made for a ground of review of unreasonableness.

In refusing the application for leave to adduce expert evidence, Justice Hill held that the Council had not identified any scientific and technical terms in the Act that required the admission of expert evidence and was not admissible to provide context to the Departments decision, which is what the Council was seeking to do.

The substantive hearing will take place in early August.

WA: Carbon credits for expanding Forest Commissions plantation estates

The Western Australian Parliament has recently passed a Bill to amend the Forest Products Act 2000 to expand the functions of the Forest Products Commission so that it can trade in carbon assets associated with forest products, where those forest products are located on land either owned by the Commission or other freehold land which the Commission holds rights in respect of. The amendments do not, however, extend this new function to carbon assets that may be associated with native forest products located on Crown Land.

Previously the Commission’s functions were restricted to dealing with “forest products”, being trees, parts of trees and similar products.

Once fully commenced on a day to be proclaimed, the Commission will have the right to own, trade and otherwise deal with carbon assets associated with forest products, such as Australian carbon credit units established under the commonwealth Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011 or equivalent carbon assets under other legislative schemes.

WA: Whole-of-Government interim emissions target set

The Western Australian Government has announced it will commit to a whole-of-government 2030 reduction of greenhouse gas emissions target of 80% below 2020 levels. By setting this ambitious target, the Government is seeking to demonstrate to businesses and industries in Western Australia that climate action and emissions reduction is a priority for the State Government. This commitment builds on the recent announcement of the retiring of State-owned coal power stations. This commitment has further reinforced the increased demand in the renewable energy space in Western Australia.

Waste

NSW: New water management regulations impose new mandatory conditions

The NSW State Government has introduced the Water Management (General) Amendment Regulation (No 2) 2022, which amends the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 so as to impose mandatory conditions on water supply works approvals nominated for the purpose of capturing or storing water taken under floodplain harvesting licences, in isolation, or in conjunction with basic landholder rights.

The Amendment Regulation also provides, in certain circumstances, an exemption from those provisions of the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW) that require landholders to hold a water supply work approval in order to use and take water from a tailwater drain.

QLD: Proposed bans for more single-use plastic items unveiled in 5-year roadmap

The Queensland Government has announced that it will ban plastic microbeads, polystyrene packing peanuts and plastic-stemmed cotton buds from 1 September 2023 as its proposed five-year roadmap to phase out harmful, single-use plastics was unveiled.  The proposed five-year roadmap identifies all future potential bans on problematic plastic items up to 2026.

The decision follows the Government’s phasing out of single-use lightweight shopping bags in 2018 and other single-use plastics food products like straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates, unenclosed bowls, and expanded polystyrene (EPS) takeaway containers and EPS cups in 2021. 

Energy

Commonwealth: Transforming the electricity grid to a net-zero framework by 2050: have your say

The Energy Security Board (ESB) is seeking stakeholder feedback on its Capacity mechanism High-level Design Paper which is a plan to effectively transform the grid to a net-zero framework by 2050.  The Paper seeks to address the changes and investment that will be necessary to adapt the National Energy Market (NEM) to shifting market forces and a legislative and policy environment that is increasingly concerned with climate change.

In the Paper, the ESB suggests introducing a “Capacity Mechanism” to the NEM which would pay energy providers the value of ensuring capacity is available during peak periods.  Energy providers would be paid by retailers under the Capacity Mechanism, who can then recoup costs from customers. While this change would be new to the NEM, it is a mechanism that is already used in global energy markets to ensure capacity is available when and where it is required.

Following consultation, it is understood that ESB will develop a draft detailed capacity mechanism design for provision to the Energy Ministers in December 2022 with a final recommendation due to the Ministers in February 2023

Submissions on the Paper are due 25 July 2022 and can be made in the manner prescribed here.

Sustainable Development

WA: New diversification lease to support low intensity activities proposed

The Western Australian Government has announced that it is drafting legislation to amend the Land Administration Act 1997 (LAA) so as to allow more flexible use of Crown land. To explain the proposed amendments, the Government has released the Exposure Draft – Proposed Policy Framework Guiding the Use of Diversification Leases on Crown Land for public consultation.

It is anticipated that the amending legislation will be introduced in the second half of 2022 and will relevantly include amendments to allow for a new form of non-exclusive land tenure that will allow for more diversified uses of Crown land (a diversification lease).

It is understood that the new diversification lease will be suitable for low intensity activities that require large areas of land in regional and remote Western Australia where proponents can conduct single, or multiple, land uses where the primary land use can coexist with other land uses.  The new tenure will not extinguish native title rights and interest where native title exists or may exist and will allow for mining and exploration activities to occur.

The Government has stated that the new diversification lease is designed for broadscale uses such as: carbon farming; multiple concurrent uses (for example, grazing livestock, horticulture, agriculture, tourism, carbon farming); Aboriginal economic development and land management; environmental offsets for mining companies or where their activities are substantially inconsistent with existing pastoral uses; conservation purposes; renewable energy; and diversification use in conjunction with off-lease activities.

It is proposed that the new diversification lease will coexist with mining rights in a similar way as pastoral leases, so that mining tenement holders will have a right to access the land. 

Submissions on the Exposure Draft can be made until 13 August 2022 in the manner prescribed here.

Planning

VIC: Changes made to Planning Policy Framework to support support Environmentally Sustainable Development

The Minister for Planning has amended the Victorian Planning Provisions under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic) to integrate the principles of environmentally sustainable development (ESD) within the framework (Amendment VC216).  Amendment VC216 gives effect to the Plan Melbourne 2017-2015 policy document, which required the ‘review of planning and building systems to support environmentally sustainable development outcomes’.  The amendments made include:

  • the creation of a climate change purpose within the overarching Purposes of the Planning Scheme clause 01;
  • replacing references to energy efficiency with climate change mitigation and adaptation in order to broaden the considerations captured by clause 11 (Settlement);
  • updating the Structure Planning subclauses within the Settlement clause to consider climate hazards, renewable energy, natural and cultural significance, integrated water management and other ESD related objectives;
  • updating the Noise Abatement and Noise Management subclauses within clause 13 to include new minimisation strategies and design responses;
  • updating clause 15 (Built Environment and Heritage) to include ESD objectives within building and subdivision design; and
  • clarifying the objectives of clause 19 (Infrastructure) regarding climate risks and inserting waste strategies.

The changes were gazetted on 10 June 2022 to take effect from that date. The Explanatory Report provides further information regarding Amendment VC216 and is available here.

Environmental Protection

NSW: NSW Government releases new draft Groundwater Strategy for consultation

The NSW Government has released its draft NSW Groundwater Strategy (Draft Strategy), which is aimed at protecting and securing NSW’s critical groundwater resources over the long-term. The Draft Strategy has three broad strategic priorities:

  1. Protect groundwater resources and the ecosystems that depend on them;
  2. Building community and industry resilience through sustainable groundwater use; and
  3. Improve groundwater management decisions with better information.

The Draft Strategy is on public exhibition for community feedback for 6 weeks until Sunday, 14 August 2022.

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